Give Daniel Cabrera an aging ballpark and an older crowd, and it's spring training all over again. The Orioles' pitcher can return to his happy place, where the Florida sun shines brightly in his face, hitters take weak swings before returning to the dugout, and expectations for him rise with the temperature.
The sky was dark last night. Hitters kept reaching base. Expectations were harnessed, at least for one game.
Baseball's fickle nature provided a lesson to Cabrera, and anyone who's ready to hand over the Cy Young based on his dominance in exhibition games. He allowed five earned runs in one inning, more than his entire spring total, and didn't make it out of the fourth in the Orioles' 9-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics before 22,415 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles were held to one hit through six innings by substitute starter Kirk Saarloos, a single by Brian Roberts in the third, and they finished with three. None of them belonged to Sammy Sosa, who went 0-for-4 but came within a few feet of a home run in the sixth.
Most of the Orioles hadn't seen Saarloos beyond a relief appearance two years ago in Houston. None of them will forget the right-hander after last night.
Saarloos received the assignment after Rich Harden was scratched because of a blister. He threw in Oakland on Monday before grabbing a flight to Baltimore.
"When you shut this team down," manager Lee Mazzilli said, "you must be throwing the ball well."
The five runs off Cabrera came as the Athletics batted around in the second. Eric Chavez provided two of them with an opposite-field homer, and Cabrera almost incited a brawl two hitters later when he drilled Scott Hatteberg, who exercised his vocal cords during a slow walk to first base.
Mazzilli waited until after the sixth to go to his bullpen on Opening Day, a shutout placed in reliable hands, but he called upon John Parrish last night with one out in the fourth and the Orioles behind 5-0.
"Cabrera was 1-2 and hit a guy. He was 1-2 and walked a guy. It seemed like he was out of sync. It seemed like he was a little unraveled and I don't know why," Mazzilli said.
Cabrera didn't get a couple of close calls in the second inning that might have changed his fate. At one point, catcher Javy Lopez turned to discuss location with plate umpire Jim Joyce.
"It was just one of those nights," Mazzilli said. "He'll bounce back."
Making his Orioles debut, reliever Steve Reed served up homers to Keith Ginter and Nick Swisher in the seventh to give Oakland a 7-0 lead. Swisher hit a two-run shot off Rick Bauer in the ninth.
Cabrera threw 85 pitches in 3 1/3 innings. His fastball topped out at 97 mph, just like in spring training, but that's where the similarities ended.
He woke up this morning with a 13.50 ERA, compared to 1.64 in Florida, where Mazzilli rewarded him with the No. 2 starter's job.
"People hit me," he said. "I gave up home runs, base hits, everything."
Five of the first nine Athletics reached against Cabrera, and his pitch count stood at 44 before leadoff hitter Mark Kotsay batted for the second time with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning.
Cabrera got ahead 0-2, and Kotsay fouled off two pitches before delivering the first run.
Roberts made a diving stop to his left and threw from his knees to retire Kotsay as Charles Thomas scored. Cabrera, who hit Thomas to begin the rally, needed one more out. It didn't come soon enough.
Jason Kendall followed with a two-run single, the ball skipping underneath shortstop Miguel Tejada's glove. Chavez drove a 94-mph fastball into the seats in left-center, and Oakland had a 5-0 lead.
Tempers flared after Erubiel Durazo grounded a single and the bullpen finally stirred.
Cabrera drilled Hatteberg behind the right arm after falling behind 3-0. Hatteberg slammed his bat to the ground, took a few steps toward the mound and yelled at Cabrera, who glared at him without saying a word.
Hatteberg continued to vent after reaching first base, once turning as if ready to charge Cabrera, then deciding against it. The Orioles' infielders gathered around their pitcher, and Tejada played peacemaker after the last out by talking to Hatteberg on his way to the dugout.
"I don't want to say nothing about that," Cabrera said, turning his back on reporters. "I don't want to answer that question."
Saarloos didn't retaliate, not with the Orioles having so much trouble reaching base against him, and Cabrera retired the side in the third.
Luis Matos was hit near the right elbow with two outs in the third, but the pitch didn't appear to be intentional. Saarloos nailed Tejada in the back leading off the fourth, but the right-hander's angry reaction suggested another accident.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Athletics' Danny Haren (3-3, 4.50 in 2004) vs. Orioles' Erik Bedard (6-10, 4.59)