Two batters into the game, Camden Yards was soaked in as much deja vu as sunshine. Uh-oh, went the buzz among the announced crowd of 31,000-plus. Cabrera doesn't have it today.
Daniel Cabrera had retired the first Pittsburgh Pirates batter yesterday, but the second walked. The third rifled a shot to the left-field corner. The fourth sent a bullet to Brian Roberts at second for the second out. One batter later, the Orioles and Cabrera had escaped without giving up a run.
On the plus side, they got out of that trouble, and part of the reason is that Cabrera lasted six innings and left trailing just 4-1, when in any previous season it would have been so much worse.
On the minus side? The Orioles can't believe they will keep escaping the way they have lately, the way they almost did again yesterday before losing, 5-4, in 10 innings. OK, maybe they believe it. But not many others should.
Give the Orioles the credit they deserve: They never give up, and they've done an amazing job of keeping teams within reach. But just as surprisingly solid starting pitching covered up for some lame offense earlier this season, clutch hitting is diverting attention from some recent shaky starts, and not just from Cabrera.
The bad Cabrera, though, the one we're too familiar with, has been on display all month: In three starts, he is 0-1, has an ERA of 8.47 and has walked nine and struck out eight. The best that can be taken from yesterday is that when he came out of the game, the Orioles were still in position to pull their Lazarus act again.
For that, and for other signs of incremental progress with Cabrera on his wilder outings, neither he nor his manager could get too upset about the outing.
"I felt good today. I felt better than the last start," Cabrera said, referring to the one in Boston last week where he again was off-target yet left the game with the Orioles down only two runs and saw them eventually win.
Of yesterday's start, he said, "They got me with three runs in the third inning, and that's what made the difference in the game."
That third inning was pretty ugly. That was the three-run inning that dug Cabrera's team a hole it spent the rest of the day digging out of. The inning included a one-out homer from Nate McLouth, a two-out walk to Jason Bay, a hit batsman, a wild pitch that moved both runners up, a two-run single by Jason Michaels (in which Michaels went to second when Adam Jones unwisely threw home) and another hit batsman.
The batter, Adam LaRoche, gave Cabrera the requisite stare as he turned toward first, as if that wild one from Cabrera was any more intentional than all the others.
Manager Dave Trembley took a deep breath and thought it over before answering the inevitable post-game Cabrera question. "I thought he was up - he was up," he said. "He had a lot of pitches early in the game. He had to battle like the dickens to work out of innings. He didn't have a whole lot of easy 1-2-3 innings."
None, actually. And he threw 109 pitches in six innings, just 59 for strikes. Yet, in his defense, he was still in the game in the sixth. That three-run third might have been an eight-run job in past starts. That six-inning stint could have been three. The parade of middle relief, for lack of a better term, would have done its usual kerosene routine. The ninth-inning margin wouldn't have been just two runs, that's for sure.
"He did a good job," Trembley said later. "He hung in there. He's getting better."
Roberts, briefly the hero with his homer to send the game to extra innings, agreed.
"I think that's one of the things that we've learned," he said. "Some of our guys are growing in maturity and learning to battle through when they don't have their best stuff, to keep their team in the game and eat up some innings instead of going out in two and a third.
"In the past, when our guys have struggled, they've really struggled."
Thus, on a day when Cabrera needed a GPS to find the plate, when the Orioles teased the crowd with another rally before falling, when they missed a chance to sweep the Pirates and stop their Sunday losing streak from reaching 10, it was possible to extract a few positives.
But it will be easier to extract them when they see the good Cabrera again, and as soon as possible.
Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).