Make no mistake: It was Cal Ripken Jr. who brought an announced 42,579 to Camden Yards last night to see the Orioles play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a matchup between the two worst teams in the American League East.
But long after a ceremony featuring several of the greatest Orioles and a heartfelt send-off to Cooperstown, N.Y., where Ripken will be inducted Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Daniel Cabrera gave the largest home crowd since Opening Day something else to feel good about.
Breaking a string of troubling outings, Cabrera got the best of a pitching duel with Scott Kazmir, holding the Devil Rays to one hit in seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory.
"It's nice to have so many fans in the ballpark, and the reason and the purpose they were here was all for the right reasons with what Cal Ripken has done and what he's meant to the Orioles and major league ball," said interim manager Dave Trembley, who is 16-13 at the helm of the club and has it at 45-53, eight games under .500 for the first time since June 14.
"I think the team fed off Brooks Robinson and Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and Earl Weaver. That ought to let you know what this thing is all about. There's some history and tradition here. We're trying to play up to it, not down to it," Trembley said.
Consistently throwing his fastball in the mid- to high 90s and mixing in some biting curveballs, Cabrera walked five batters but also struck out three and benefited from three double plays. All three double plays came immediately after walks.
B.J. Upton got the Devil Rays' only hit off Cabrera (7-10) with a fourth-inning single that would have been a routine groundout, but second baseman Brian Roberts broke to the bag to cover on Carl Crawford's steal attempt. Upton had both of Tampa Bay's hits.
Paul Shuey pitched a scoreless eighth, also inducing a double play, and Jamie Walker saved the game with Chris Ray unavailable with right elbow stiffness. Trembley said Walker was chosen because the first two Devil Rays up in the inning were left-handers. Trembley said Danys Baez would have closed if more right-handers were due up.
"We're all closers, really," Walker said. "That's the mind-set that you have to have."
Walker's second save in as many games secured Cabrera's first win since June 22 and his first home win since May 27. Cabrera improved to 5-0 with a 3.11 ERA in nine career starts against Tampa Bay.
"He threw strikes," said Crawford, an All-Star who returned to the Devil Rays' lineup after missing two games with a sprained ankle. "He wasn't all wild out in the zone. He's either on or he's off. Today he was on."
Coupled with a 2-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, the Orioles have back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Sept. 25-26 against the Detroit Tigers. They've also beaten Tampa Bay seven straight times.
The Orioles broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning on Aubrey Huff's two-out single to left field. It easily scored Nick Markakis, who led off the inning with a single. They added two more runs in the seventh, when Kazmir appeared to tire. After retiring Chris Gomez to start the inning, Kazmir issued three straight walks. The last one, a four-pitch free pass to Kevin Millar, brought in a run and ended Kazmir's evening.
He struck out eight but was charged with three earned runs on seven hits and is now winless in his past five starts against the Orioles. Juan Salas relieved him and walked Ramon Hernandez to bring in another run.
The Orioles threatened again in the eighth, but Gomez was picked off at third base trying to get a jump on Salas, a play that left Trembley a little peeved.
"I told Gomez, 'You're lucky you didn't just keep right on going up those stairs.' I said, 'You had a lot of guts to come back out and run back out on the field for the ninth,'" Trembley said. "That's bad baseball, plain and simple. If it works, it's great, but when it looks like that, that's bad baseball."
Gomez acknowledged that he got overexcited and made a mistake, saying: "It was an aggressive play, probably a little stupid since I got thrown out. I tried to make a play. It just didn't work out."
However, the play proved insignificant, largely because Cabrera took control of the game early and never let go. It has his first scoreless outing of the season and his longest outing since pitching eight innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 16.
"Other people know me as a hard-throwing guy, so sometimes I struggle with control, but tonight I felt good and I put everything together," Cabrera said. "I just tried to pitch the same the whole game. What I feel the first few innings, I try to bring until it's game over."
Cabrera had given up five earned runs in three of his past four starts. After his previous one in Seattle, Trembley and pitching coach Leo Mazzone decided to limit Cabrera to one side session between starts instead of his normal two. At least on this night, the plan seemed to work. Trembley said that he hadn't seen Cabrera throw so hard consistently since Cabrera struck out 11 in one start for Double-A Bowie, where Trembley was managing, in 2005. Later that night, Cabrera was called up to the big leagues.
"That was probably the last time I saw him dominate like he did tonight," Trembley said. "He dominated with his fastball, and he did not give in with his location or velocity with his fastball. He just kept throwing it."