After giving up his third home run last night, Daniel Cabrera walked off the mound in the fifth inning to a mixed ovation. It was mostly Washington Nationals fans, who had made the short trip up Interstate 95, applauding as the towering pitcher ducked into the dugout, his troubling evening over. And it was the Orioles fans who greeted Cabrera's exit with a chorus of boos.
On a warm night at Camden Yards, Cabrera was the easy target on a listless Orioles team that is now in last place in the American League East. Cabrera surrendered seven runs, including three home runs, and the Orioles' offense remained dormant in a 7-4 loss to the Nationals before an announced 21,151 at Camden Yards.
Nationals starter Micah Bowie, a journeyman who has spent much of his career as a reliever, did the honors, allowing a three-run home run to Melvin Mora in the second inning and then shutting the Orioles down for the next four innings.
The Orioles (29-35) didn't manage a hit after Mora's opposite-field blast until Miguel Tejada led off the ninth with a home run off Jesus Colome. They did stage a minor rally in the ninth, but Nationals closer Chad Cordero got catcher Paul Bako, the potential tying run, to ground into a game-ending double play to secure his 100th career save.
"You know, when you're not swinging the bat, everybody looks like Cy Young out there," lamented Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, whose team is now a season-worst six games under .500 and has lost eight of its past 10 games. "I just think that there's enough of us struggling with the bat that were panicking a little bit."
The Orioles have only two more wins than the Nationals, a team that is entrenched in the rebuilding process and one that some pundits had predicted could set a baseball record for most losses in a season.
Cabrera lasted only 4 2/3 innings, tying his shortest outing of the season. The seven runs he allowed were his most since last August, and the three home runs also tied a career high. The Orioles had hoped that the pitcher would have learned from his previous outing, when he gave up four early runs and then steadied himself to turn in a solid eight innings against the Seattle Mariners.
They used the outing to point to Cabrera's growing maturity. But as the enigmatic 26-year-old proved again last night, he still is unable to shake his erratic ways. Predicting what Cabrera will do one batter to the next, let alone one outing to the next, is pointless.
In three different innings, Cabrera retired the first two Nationals before losing his control and paying for it on the scoreboard. In the third, Felipe Lopez started a two-out rally with a walk and then came around to score on Ryan Zimmerman's two-run homer.
In the fourth, Cabrera allowed a two-out single to Ryan Langerhans, a walk to Cristian Guzman and then a two-run double to Lopez that broke a 3-3 tie. In the fifth, Cabrera issued another two-out walk - his fourth of the game - to Ryan Church before Nationals catcher Brian Schneider connected for a two-run homer.
"I don't try to be too fine," said Cabrera, who said that he felt that plate umpire Jerry Layne had a small strike zone. "Like I said before, I threw close pitches and they didn't hit them. That's when I walked the guys. The base hits and the home runs came after that."
The Orioles maintain that Cabrera is a better and more mature pitcher than the one who led the league last year in walks and wild pitches. But that's certainly not reflected in Cabrera's numbers.
Through 14 starts last season, Cabrera was 4-5 with a 5.13 ERA, compared with 5-7 with a 5.16 ERA after his first 14 this season. His walks are down significantly, but Cabrera still leads the league with 45. And after allowing 11 home runs all of last year, he has already given up that many this season.
"I kind of thought he's a little better this year, I really do," Perlozzo said. "I know it's not working out that way, but he gave up four runs in Seattle early on and then really pitched well, got us through eight innings. I was kind of hoping that was what was going to happen this evening and it looked it was, but every time you get two outs, you walk someone and give up a homer."
Asked whether he feels that he is a better pitcher than he was earlier in his career, Cabrera said: "I think yes. I think I have better control, but today, nothing was going my way. The only thing I can do is keep working and try to be ready for the next game."
That's also been the mantra of the Orioles' offense, which scored only seven runs in three games against the Colorado Rockies, and was essentially shut down again last night aside from the second inning, which featured Mora's opposite-field three-run homer, his eighth of the season.
"I thought we had it going and he just shut us down," said left fielder Jay Gibbons, who was 0-for-1 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. "It's a consistency problem, I think. It's hard to get going. But we're better than that."
Gibbons was taken out of the game after his at-bat in the seventh inning. Perlozzo inserted Corey Patterson into the game to hit for catcher Alberto Castillo. After Patterson grounded out, he stayed in as the center fielder, moving Jay Payton to left field, where Gibbons had started the game.
In Gibbons' spot was Bako, who came up in the ninth with men on first and second and a chance to avoid another dismal defeat. But after spoiling several Cordero pitches, Bako grounded into a double play.
"Its crazy," Huff said. "It's happened like three times this year where we'll get to .500 or a game behind it, then we'll have a rough game and it snowballs for us. We just can't seem to get on a roll."