ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Trying to begin the second half on the right note, the Orioles didn't make it out of their hotel without having issues.
They could have taken it as a sign that their 86th game this season wasn't going to treat them any better than most of the others. Or they could have used it as evidence that their focus won't be disturbed, no matter how many distractions crop up, even the ones involving their manager's job status.
Asked to pitch a day sooner than scheduled, rookie Daniel Cabrera had difficulty with his command in the early innings before settling down, David Newhan broke a tie in the seventh with a two-run triple, and Jorge Julio beat his own demons to give the Orioles a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night at Tropicana Field.
Julio loaded the bases with two outs before Julio Lugo flied out, and the Orioles (38-48) avoided falling 12 games below .500 for the first time this season.
Once again, scoring opportunities were wasted as a game almost was lost. The leadoff hitter reached in the first six innings, and the Orioles forced Devil Rays starter Victor Zambrano to throw 104 pitches in 4 1/3 , but they still trailed by a run until Larry Bigbie opened the sixth with a home run to center field against reliever Trever Miller.
Having already singled twice, Newhan lined a triple into the right-field corner off Bobby Seay with two outs in the seventh to score Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez. Newhan has hit safely in 23 of 24 games since signing on June 18, and he caused Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella to make three pitching changes before he batted.
"Once you get a feel for left-handed pitching and face them every day, it takes all the anxiety away," said Newhan, who's hitting .448 against lefties.
"This kid," manager Lee Mazzilli said, "since the day we got him, he's been swinging the bat. He's really impressed all of us. We've got to keep his bat in the lineup."
Cabrera (7-3) hasn't lost since three days before Newhan's arrival. He allowed three runs in six innings before left-handers Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan relieved him. Ryan got the last two outs of the seventh to leave runners on first and third and retired the side in the eighth, putting the outcome in Julio's hands.
They tend to shake at Tropicana Field, where Julio has blown three saves via home runs and had a lifetime 8.44 ERA before last night, but he survived two-out singles by Aubrey Huff and Jose Cruz and a walk to Tino Martinez.
"I believe in my team," Mazzilli said. "He's my closer, and I believe in him."
Erik Bedard was supposed to start last night until his flight out of Ottawa was canceled Wednesday because of inclement weather. The team reversed his assignment with Cabrera's once they learned Bedard wouldn't arrive in Florida until yesterday.
The left-hander's plane touched down at 1:50 p.m., a little more than four hours before the scheduled first pitch. He still wanted the ball, but the Orioles weren't going to rush him.
"I've never done it before," Bedard said. "I would have tried. The outcome? I'm not sure."
More reason to hold him back a day.
"It wasn't anything that we had to push," Mazzilli said. "You don't want to put somebody in a spot where they don't belong."
Cabrera wasn't a bad alternative given his emergence, quite unexpected, as the staff ace at the age of 23. He also was working on normal rest after pitching Saturday.
Mazzilli keeps trying to protect Cabrera as his innings build, but circumstances won't allow it.
Sidney Ponson's strained groin muscle forced Cabrera to start Saturday's game against the Kansas City Royals and ruined plans to hold him out of the rotation until after the break. And Bedard's inability to leave Canada - he considered a flight through Atlanta yesterday that wouldn't have landed until 4:45 p.m., an idea the Orioles nixed - again impacted Cabrera.
So did an inability to throw strikes consistently. Cabrera walked five through the third inning, matching his season high. He walked the bases loaded in the third before retiring Rey Sanchez on a grounder to keep Tampa Bay's lead at 3-1.
"I said to myself, `Come on, Daniel, what happened to you? That's not you,'" Cabrera said.
The Orioles pushed across an unearned run in the first off Zambrano, who walked six. But Huff hit a two-run homer in the bottom half, and Carl Crawford's triple in the second - his team-record 10th - scored Sanchez.
Crawford tripled again in the seventh off Groom after Cabrera had retired nine of his last 10 batters. Rocco Baldelli followed with a run-scoring grounder, and Groom was gone after Huff singled.
"The first two or three innings, I didn't have any energy," Cabrera said. "I was working too slow. But after that I felt good. I worked faster."
Protected from the oppressive heat, the Orioles still broke a sweat before the game. Mazzilli and his coaches put them through an hourlong workout that included drills usually seen in spring training.
"We were just going over some plays," Mazzilli said, "and reviewing things."
Did anyone cover the part about hitting in the clutch?
Jose Leon grounded into a double play to end the second, and his sacrifice fly in the fourth accounted for the only run despite the Orioles twice loading the bases.
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Time: 12:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Erik Bedard (3-3, 4.01) vs. Devil Rays' John Halama (4-3, 4.09)
Today @ DEVIL RAYS 12:15 CSN
Sat. @ DEVIL RAYS 6:15 Chs. 54, 20
Sun. @ DEVIL RAYS 1:15 Chs. 13, 20
Mon. @ ROYALS 8:10 CSN
Tues. @ ROYALS 2:10 CSN
Wed. @ RED SOX 7:05 CSN
Thu. @ RED SOX 1:05/7:05 54,20/CSN
Radio: All games on WBAL (1090 AM)