NEW YORK -- With each passing start, the memories of Daniel Cabrera's finest outing of his professional career get more distant, and the signs of progress from the pitcher harder to detect.
It was at Yankee Stadium a little less than a year ago that the Orioles' enigmatic starter came within two outs of no-hitting New York, a performance that again tempted Orioles fans to believe Cabrera, 26, was finally ready to morph into a staff ace.
But these days, he appears further from that status than ever before. With the Orioles needing a long and effective outing to ease a bruised and battered bullpen, the 6-foot-9 Cabrera again came up entirely too small. He allowed six runs and 13 base runners in just five innings, and the Yankees beat the Orioles, 8-5, in the series opener last night before an announced 52,548.
The Orioles (64-85) left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth.
However, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera struck out Melvin Mora with two runners on to end the Orioles' rally. It was just the Yankees' fifth victory against the Orioles in 13 tries this season and moves them to 3 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East.
"I thought we were going to tie the game when we had that last chance," said Mora, who also was struck out by Edwar Ramirez with the bases loaded to end the sixth. "[Rivera] threw me a nasty pitch. I thought that we had it, but it's tough when you don't hit with men in scoring position."
It's even more difficult when your starting pitcher isn't throwing strikes.
Spotted an early two-run lead, Cabrera held it for only an inning before losing control of his pitches and the game. He hit two consecutive batters in the Yankees' two-run second. He allowed a go-ahead, bases-empty home run to Hideki Matsui in the third and then two more runs in the fourth. The Yankees scored two more on Cabrera and Jim Hoey in the sixth.
Trying to stay with Cabrera as long as possible with few options available in the bullpen after Sunday's 12-inning game, Orioles manager Dave Trembley watched Cabrera throw only 60 of his 113 pitches for strikes.
"It just seems to be that there is one inning or maybe two in a game where he just completely loses it," said Trembley, who took star shortstop Miguel Tejada out of the game in the ninth after he was hit in the left arm with a pitch. "There are times when he pitches and he looks unhittable, and then there are other times where his ability to command the strike zone just isn't there and it usually costs him, or it has in recent outings.
"What he's got to do is ... repeat his delivery. You just see his delivery at times, he falls off to the side, the ability to command his pitches comes and goes. He certainly has the stuff, but you saw tonight a couple of key instances in the ballgame where he had to pitch behind and then he had to come in there with fastballs and they made him pay for it."
Cabrera, pitching while his six-game suspension assessed for throwing behind Boston's Dustin Pedroia on Sept. 7 is pending because of appeal, allowed eight hits, walked three batters and hit two.
Cabrera (9-17) lost his fourth straight start and fifth straight decision, surpassing Jose Contreras of the Chicago White Sox for the most losses in the American League and tying the St. Louis Cardinals' Kip Wells for the most in the majors. Only four pitchers in Orioles history have lost more games in a season. He also leads the major leagues in earned runs (119) and walks (104), and he's second in the majors in hits batsmen (15).
And perhaps most disturbing is that Cabrera, who hasn't won since beating the Yankees here on Aug. 14, is regressing as the season goes on. After going 6-10 with a 5.04 ERA in 19 starts before the All-Star break, he's 3-7 with a 6.29 ERA in 14 starts in the second half of the season.
"That's a lot of losing on my record right now. It's not a good feeling," Cabrera said. "Yeah, it's tough. I think it would be tough for anybody. Seventeen losses in the major leagues is tough."
The Orioles need one win in the final five games against New York to give them their first season series of .500 or better against their rivals since 1997. The Orioles have won the season series against the Yankees just twice in the past 24 seasons.
Trembley's squad did exactly what he had hoped, jumping on rookie Phil Hughes (4-3) with two first-inning runs. Brian Roberts led off with a double and Tike Redman lined a single to left. Right fielder Nick Markakis then drove Hughes' hanging curveball into the left-center-field gap for a two-run double. It gave Markakis 102 RBIs this season - he added an RBI single in the ninth for his 103rd - and Cabrera an early lead.
In his previous Yankee Stadium start, Cabrera pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings, holding the Yankees to two hits. In his previous Bronx start before that, last September, he came within two outs of no-hitting New York before settling for a one-hit, complete-game victory.
But the pitcher that day didn't resemble the Cabrera the Orioles are currently seeing.
Asked whether he thinks Cabrera has made some progress, Trembley said: "I can say that what he's done is give us an awful lot of innings, but the numbers are what they are. The ERA and the walks and the record is because [of] his inability to repeat his pitches.
"There's a lot of work for Daniel to do to be a successful major league pitcher."