Just after Tuesday night's game had ended, Orioles manager Dave Trembley met his starting pitcher for the next night's game on the top step of the dugout and told Daniel Cabrera two things.
First, Trembley said, "Thank goodness June is done," a reference to Cabrera's 0-3 record and 7.06 ERA in five starts last month. And then Trembley got to the one message that he really wanted to sink in. "Hey, you know, our bullpen's pretty beat up," Trembley told Cabrera. "You've got to go deep into the game tomorrow night."
Cabrera promised his manager he would and then went out and delivered in the Orioles' 5-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals before an announced 17,909 last night at Camden Yards.
In a brisk 2 hours, 16 minutes, the Orioles' shortest game this season, Cabrera needed 105 pitches to set the Royals down, throwing a complete game against them for the second time this season and winning for the first time since May 20.
"It had been a long time since I've had one like that," said Cabrera (6-4).
He allowed seven hits and walked none for the fifth time this season. He also improved to 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA in eight career starts against the Royals. And his performance was especially needed as the Orioles' bullpen had logged 18 innings in the previous four games.
The Orioles' bullpen stayed quiet until Jim Johnson, who would have closed the game after George Sherrill had pitched in three consecutive contests, started warming up in the ninth inning. Johnson's services weren't needed, as Cabrera allowed a leadoff single to Alex Gordon but then retired the next three Royals. First baseman Aubrey Huff made a diving stop on Mark Teahen's hard grounder and then raced to touch first for the final out.
"There was definitely a time and a need to back off some of those guys down there," Trembley said. "You're probably not going to see Cabrera pitch any better than he did tonight. He had command. He got ground balls, and he got great defense behind him. His poise was outstanding."
The night started with Cabrera allowing a long home run to David DeJesus, the first batter he faced, and putting the leadoff hitter on in the first four innings. It ended with Cabrera retiring 18 of the final 20 batters he faced, including 14 straight at one point. Cabrera had thrown only 77 pitches through seven innings and 85 through eight.
"When you're getting a lot of first-pitch strikes, getting quick outs, it's a lot of fun playing defense behind that kind of performance," Huff said. "It was nice to look back at the bullpen tonight and see Georgie not warming up, giving him a day off. You can't say enough about [Cabrera] pitching a complete game. The bullpen really needed it."
Huff gave the Orioles (43-40) the lead with a two-run blast in the first inning, his 15th homer of the season, tying his total from last year. The Orioles took a 3-2 lead on Luke Scott's single in the third and tacked on two more in the fifth on Nick Markakis' double and Ramon Hernandez's single. Hernandez, batting cleanup with Kevin Millar getting the day off, went 3-for-4.
But the night clearly belonged to Cabrera. The Orioles' right-hander, 27, gave up six runs in each of his first two June starts. He showed some improvement in his next three starts, lasting at least six innings and surrendering no more than four runs in each.
But they were nothing like his performance last night after he settled down from a rocky start. Relying mostly on his two-seam fastball, Cabrera struck out only two but got 15 ground-ball outs. When he allowed only one run in a complete game against the Royals on May 8, Cabrera induced 18 ground-ball outs.
"It's good that [June] is over already," Cabrera said. "It's a new month and I'll just keep working and trying to keep doing what I do."