Focused Cabrera fuels O's comeback

The Baltimore Sun

Seattle -- Sam Perlozzo put his arms on Daniel Cabrera's shoulders and pleaded with the pitcher to stay focused. Cabrera had already given up four runs when he stomped back to the visiting dugout at Safeco Field after the second.

He was angry and frustrated, and so were the Orioles, who had lost five straight games and trailed by four runs with an exhausted bullpen and a makeshift lineup at their disposal.

"The ballclub needs you," Perlozzo told Cabrera as the two faced each other. "You got to be a man now."

The Orioles have been waiting for several years for Cabrera to grasp his emotions show some maturity. In their 9-5 victory over the Seattle Mariners yesterday before an announced 29,010, the pitcher may not have delivered his signature performance.

But on a day when the Orioles badly needed a victory for many reasons, it was hard to imagine the enigmatic Cabrera has ever been more resilient. After giving up three second-inning runs, the 26-year-old pitched six shutout innings, doing his part in the Orioles' comeback.

The Orioles (28-32) took the lead with a five-run fifth inning, knocking out Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn thanks to contributions from rarely used Freddie Bynum, slumping Jay Gibbons and converted leadoff man Jay Payton, among others. They added three runs in the ninth inning to take a five-run lead, making for a rare stress-free victory for a team that had watched its bullpen blow three straight games while leading after six innings.

Closer Chris Ray did have a shaky ninth, allowing a run and two hits, but the Mariners never got the tying run even to the on-deck circle. The scariest thing that happened in the ninth was catcher Ramon Hernandez's getting hit in the groin by a foul tip. He got X-rays after the game and did not accompany his teammates on the flight home.

"If they came back then, I think we all would have just hung up our spikes," said first baseman Aubrey Huff, echoing the frustration from the previous three days. "You get to a point where you hit rock bottom as far as being up and you figure if you're going to start winning some games, maybe starting down will help us out. We got a lot of hits out there in a Row, and it got everybody's confidence going."

Suddenly, the Orioles' long, cross-country flight home after a grueling 10-game trip became more tolerable. The Orioles won the first four games on the trip to extend their winning streak to six, then lost their next five before prevailing yesterday.

The 5-5 mark was not what they had hoped for after starting so well and considering they led in every game and have now led in 15 straight games, going just 8-7 during that stretch.

But to a man, it felt acceptable after the club and Cabrera looked beaten and resigned in falling behind by four runs so early.

"I felt like, 'Boy, is this going to turn into a disaster after the five losses,'" said Perlozzo, whose job security would have been scrutinized today. "This is typically what happens. You go out, you need a good game and you don't get it. For these guys to come back the way they did and keep battling is something we talked [about] with the ballclub earlier. We continue to see it. We just need to be more consistent with it."

Huff had three hits and two RBIs, including the fifth-inning double off Washburn that gave the Orioles the 5-4 lead. Payton, in the leadoff spot with Brian Roberts on a scheduled day off, also had three hits and two RBIs, and it was his double that drove in the Orioles' first two runs in the inning and was cited by players as the key hit in the comeback.

Left fielder Gibbons, who entered the game in an 0-for-22 slump, hit a leadoff single in both the fifth and sixth innings, scoring both times.

"It's good to be part of the party," said Gibbons, who is experimenting with a more open stance to try to improve his timing at the plate. "I was trying to think of my last hit today. I think it was off [Toronto's] A.J. Burnett like 2 1/2 weeks ago. You struggle and then you don't play. It can wear on you."

And Bynum, who hadn't started since April 18, contributed two of the Orioles' season-high 16 hits. Six Orioles had multi-hit games, including Miguel Tejada, who got his first start of the season at designated hitter.

But it was Cabrera who played the most important role, helping save a bullpen that was running on fumes.

"We're really stretched thin with our pitching," Perlozzo said. "I told Daniel that he needed to stay focused. He needed to keep his composure, no matter what happened. I needed him to go deep into the ballgame for us. ... He gets a little upset, he gets a little flustered. He's still a kid. And I stayed there with him a little while until he calmed and ... looked me in the eyes and said, 'OK.' He went out and did it."

Cabrera, who improved to 5-6 this season and 5-0 in his career against Seattle, allowed only two hits and five base runners after the second. That included a perfect eighth, when Cabrera's fastball was clocked at 97 mph.

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