By the bottom of the sixth inning, it had already been a bad night for the Orioles at Camden Yards. Pitcher Daniel Cabrera was smacked around the ballpark for six runs, including a career-high three home runs. The Orioles were mounting next to nothing off Florida Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis and running themselves out of innings when they did get opportunities.
But those things faded to the background when All-Star third baseman Melvin Mora lay in a heap at home plate after taking a Willis fastball off his already sore left knee. Mora was helped off the field by trainer Richie Bancells and manager Sam Perlozzo, unable to put any weight on his leg.
The X-rays came out negative. Mora was found to have a bruised knee and is considered day-to-day. That was about the only good news in the Orioles' 6-2 loss last night to the Marlins, who tied their franchise record with a ninth straight win behind Willis' 8 2/3 innings.
"It was kind of scary, but I am feeling better." Mora said. "I have to see how I feel tomorrow."
Before 18,333, Cabrera (4-4) lost his second straight game, needing 117 pitches in just 5 2/3 innings. His struggles usually occur when he can't find the strike zone. When he is consistently throwing strikes, the scouting reports say, he is virtually unhittable. Florida discarded that logic, walking only twice, but carding eight hits.
Rookie Dan Uggla hit a bases-empty homer in the first, Matt Treanor did the same in the fourth and Alfredo Amezaga hit a two-run shot in the sixth on what was Cabrera's last pitch. It was Treanor's first home run in 267 career at-bats as he broke the longest homerless streak among active players in the league. It was just Amezaga's sixth career home in 303 career at-bats.
"My command was good." Cabrera said. "I had a couple of close pitches the umpire didn't give to me."
Willis (4-6) didn't dominate the Orioles (32-40), but he was plenty effective in remaining undefeated in his past four outings after going winless in eight straight starts at one point this season. The Florida left-hander allowed 12 hits and watched his shutout thwarted in the seventh inning on Corey Patterson's eighth home run, a two-run shot 415 feet into the center-field bleachers.
Willis was removed with men on first and second and two outs in the ninth. Closer Joe Borowski came on to get his 12th save, inducing Jeff Conine to fly out to right for the game's final out.
"He mixed the pitches pretty good." Mora said of Willis. "He's good. He's a pitcher. He doesn't just throw the ball to home plate. He located his pitches, he throws inside, and his changeup was pretty good. He mixed the pitches and he was able to keep everybody off balance."
For the second straight series, the Orioles were matched up against the hottest team in the National League. Like the New York Mets over the weekend, the rebuilt Marlins entered the series having won eight straight and with the highest winning percentage (.750) since May 22 in the major leagues. Entering last night, they were 18-6 in their past 24 games after starting the season 11-31.
During that span, the Marlins have allowed the fewest runs (24) in the majors and have the lowest ERA (2.87).
"We went into New York limping on a three-game losing streak and facing the hottest team in baseball, and we turn around and win two." Perlozzo said. "We've been resilient. We've been able to bounce back. And obviously, we have a hot team coming in here. You could look at it either way. It means they're due to lose a little quicker or we could be afraid. We choose not to be afraid."
Cabrera was coming off three straight solid outings after returning from the disabled list, but the Marlins jumped on him early. Uggla turned around Cabrera's 98-mph fastball and sent it deep into the left-field seats for a bases-empty home run, his 13th.
The Orioles felt that Cabrera had struck out Uggla a couple of pitches earlier, but home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor didn't give him the call.
"When you don't get help from behind home plate and you don't get help from the umpire behind first base, what are you going to do?' Mora said. "You are going to be behind all the hitters. I think Cabrera threw good today, but they didn't give him the pitches that they are supposed to give. I think a couple of guys struck out and they didn't call it."
After the first two Marlins got on in the second, Cabrera struck out three straight to get out of the inning unharmed. However, he was unable to get out of a jam in the third. Mike Jacobs' double down the right-field line eluded the glove of Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar and scored rookie Hanley Ramirez, who had led off the inning with a double. After a Miguel Cabrera infield single, Cody Ross drove in Jacobs with a sacrifice fly to deep center and the Marlins led 3-0.
Florida's lead was 4-0 when Treanor hammered Cabrera's pitch into the left-field seats.
Meanwhile, Willis was in complete control. Miguel Tejada crushed a no-out double to dead center field in the second, but he never advanced past second base. Mora and Tejada had back- to-back hits in the fourth, but Mora was thrown out at third by Marlins center fielder Alfredo Amezaga trying to take second on Tejada's single.
Patterson was then thrown out by right fielder Jeremy Hermida trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth.
"When you are down four runs, you need to be sure." Perlozzo said of Mora and Patterson running into outs. "That's just a general rule in baseball. They were over-aggressive. They were trying to do something good for the ballclub and it back fired on us."