WASHINGTON -- Challenged to name a key to the game last night for starter Daniel Cabrera, Orioles manager Dave Trembley shifted his focus to the batter's box, never a comfortable spot for the Dominican pitcher. Trembley wanted three at-bats out of Cabrera, figuring if the right-hander kept coming to the plate, he must be locating it from the mound, too.
"If he gets three at-bats," Trembley said, "he'll be in the game long."
Long enough to have it get away from him in the seventh.
Cabrera retired 11 in a row before walking former Oriole Willie Harris to begin the inning, and the Washington Nationals took advantage by scoring twice to break a tie and register a 4-2 victory before an announced 35,830 at Nationals Park.
The Orioles (40-38) fell to 10-6 in interleague play. They put the tying runs on base with no outs in the ninth, but Melvin Mora swung at the first pitch from closer Jon Rauch and grounded sharply into a double play, making him 0-for-16 in his past four games.
"Mora hits the ball on the money right to the shortstop," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "We had something going there, and that was a buzz kill."
Trembley said he didn't consider bunting Mora in that situation.
"You don't play to tie on the road, not with your No. 3 hitter," the Orioles manager said. "If anybody second-guesses that, they don't know baseball and they can go fly a kite, as far as I'm concerned."
Singles by Adam Jones and Brandon Fahey in the sixth inning, sandwiched around an error by left fielder Wily Mo Pena, enabled the Orioles to tie the score at 2 against reliever Steven Shell. But next inning, Cabrera (5-4) walked Harris and allowed a run-scoring double to pinch hitter Kory Casto, the ball scooting past Jay Payton as he tried to make a sliding, backhanded stab, and Elijah Dukes padded the lead with an RBI single. Cabrera departed after Lastings Milledge singled, still leaving him winless since May 20.
"That [walk] hurt me a lot," said Cabrera, who struck out three times last night to fall to 0-for-14 with 14 strikeouts as a hitter. "Everything was working [earlier]. Breaking ball, fastball, everything was working fine."
Trembley's day became complicated long before the first pitch. He learned that reliever Matt Albers has torn shoulder cartilage that could require season-ending surgery. And he eventually settled on a lineup that excluded Aubrey Huff, who had 24 hits in his past 55 at-bats, with five homers and 13 RBIs in 13 games.
Without a designated hitter in National League ballparks, someone had to sit last night. Millar got the start against Washington left-hander Odalis Perez, who was making his first appearance since June 3 and came out after four scoreless innings with his pitch count at 75. Third base wasn't an option for Huff because Mora rested Thursday.
"It's difficult to take at-bats away from guys who mean so much to your lineup," Trembley said before the game. "Our team is geared way more toward having a DH than to not. In the long run, it will benefit those guys because they're getting days off, [but] in the interim, it's tough not having their bats all in the lineup on the same night."
The Nationals took advantage of a Jones error in center field and scored twice in the first inning. Cristian Guzman led off with a double and came home when Milledge singled up the middle with one out. Jones overran the ball, allowing Milledge to take third. Then Jesus Flores singled.
Perez was removed for a pinch hitter in the fourth despite blanking the Orioles on three hits. "They brought in a couple of bullpen guys to go a couple of innings," Millar said, "and you just never can get in a rhythm with anybody."