BOSTON - Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera agitated some Boston Red Sox this spring by throwing too close to their hitters. They grumbled about his lack of command and the danger he presented. If he can't control his fastball, they reasoned, he shouldn't venture inside with it.
He didn't win many friends through four innings last night, but not because of his wildness. The ball went precisely where he wanted - across the plate and to its edges, into fielders' gloves, away from open spaces, as if attached to a string.
It wasn't until the fifth inning of their 5-1 victory at Fenway Park that the Red Sox became the puppeteers. And they no longer had any complaints.
Hitless when the inning began, they scored four runs against Cabrera, the ball now whistling past him as runners circled the bases. The Orioles would lose for the fourth time in five games, and Cabrera would remind everyone that he just turned 24, isn't far removed from Double-A and is a work in progress.
"He's still a baby; he's still learning out there," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Once this kid is consistent with his breaking ball, he has a chance to be lights out."
Brian Roberts extended his hitting streak to 20 games, the longest of his career, with a single in the first inning, but Red Sox starter Wade Miller didn't give the Orioles (31-20) much more. After Sal Fasano's run-scoring double in the third, they went without a hit until the seventh.
"It seems like we need to get out there early and give [Cabrera] some runs to work with," Mazzilli said.
The Red Sox played the last six innings without center fielder Johnny Damon, who crashed into the fence while chasing Jay Gibbons' triple in the third and was sprawled on the warning track. John Olerud pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the inning, removing a player who had reached base four times Monday.
Damon suffered cuts and bruises on his face and required four stitches above his right eye. He showed no signs of a concussion but remained under observation, and his status for tonight's game is uncertain.
Olerud tied the game in the fifth with a double to left-center field that scored Jay Payton. Mark Bellhorn, who had singled with one out to end Cabrera's no-hit bid, came home on Edgar Renteria's single, and RBIs by David Ortiz and Trot Nixon gave Boston a 4-1 lead.
The Red Sox strung together four straight hits to swing the game in the other direction and eventually leave the Orioles 1-1 on their 14-day road trip, their longest of the season. Their lead in the American League East shrank to three games.
"We just couldn't stop the bleeding," Fasano said. "We've really got nobody to blame but ourselves."
Said Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro: "That one inning, it just fell apart for [Cabrera]."
Mazzilli broke out the same lineup as Monday, with Fasano replacing Geronimo Gil behind the plate and David Newhan playing center field. Fasano also caught Cabrera's last start, when the right-hander held the Seattle Mariners to one run over seven innings in a 5-2 victory.
Fasano rewarded Mazzilli's faith with a double in the third inning that scored Gibbons and gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead. It was Fasano's first double since September 2001.
"It's very hard to go every other day with catchers," Mazzilli said. "We'll go a few days with Sal and then see where that goes. We'll go a few days with [Gil] as well. It's a hard thing to change every day."
Mazzilli liked what he saw from Cabrera (4-4) until the fifth. He had retired 10 of the previous 11 batters before walking Bill Mueller and was removed after consecutive two-out singles by Payton and Bellhorn in the sixth, his pitch count already at 100.
"I try to make good pitches and sometimes you get a good hitter and he can make adjustments," Cabrera said. "That's what happened in the fifth inning."
Along with his high-90s fastball and curve, Cabrera effectively mixed in his slider in the first four innings to stifle an offense that ranked second to the Orioles in the AL with a .282 average before last night. He just couldn't sustain it.
"Every time he goes to the mound, you think something special could happen," Mazzilli said. "That's a good feeling."
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site, time: Fenway Park, Boston, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (5-3, 5.66) vs. Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (4-4, 4.48)