Rays' late homers cap a wild night

Cabrera walks 9 more, but leaves after 5 with lead

Devil Rays 7 Orioles 4

April 13, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For one more hitter, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo was willing to overlook the nine walks. He was able to ignore the three wild pitches and the unpredictability that hung over Tropicana Field like a blanket every time Daniel Cabrera reared back to fire a pitch.

Perlozzo was desperate for Cabrera to take home a positive from what had to be one of the strangest outings from a starter that most of the 10,707 in attendance last night had ever seen. So he let the enigmatic right-hander stay in the game in the fifth inning last night, with Tampa Bay Devil Rays at every base and the Orioles still leading by a run. Cabrera got Tomas Perez to fly out to left field, a win remarkably still in his grasp.

He didn't get the victory as reliever John Halama surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Ty Wigginton in the seventh inning, and Jonny Gomes connected for a grand slam off rookie Sendy Rleal in the eighth to give the Devil Rays a 7-4 victory.

Gomes dropped his bat and pumped his fist emphatically as his home run slammed into the left-field seats, giving the Devil Rays just their second win over the Orioles (4-5) in six games, and casting further pain on the Orioles' beleaguered bullpen.

Cabrera's final line over five innings was three hits, one earned run, three wild pitches, a career-high nine walks and 10 strike outs ( one short of a career-high) on 117 pitches. Of the 27 Devil Rays he faced last night, only six of them actually put the ball into play.

Coupled with his first outing last week, where he gave up seven earned runs on three hits and s even walks over 1 1/3 innings against Boston, Cabrera has now walked 16 of the 41 hitters he's faced this season as club officials maintain there is nothing me chanically wrong with the 24-year-old, he's just trying too hard.

If Cabrera was carrying any emotional scars from his disastrous outing against Boston five days earlier, they didn't show on his first pitch, a 96-mph fastball that was called a strike. He went on to strike out five of the first seven hitters he faced.

After striking out the side in the first, Cabrera was met at the top stair of the Orioles dugout by several teammates, offering congratulatory handshakes. Little did they know, that the pitcher and the Orioles' bullpen were about to lead them on an emotional tightrope over the next seven innings. Arguably, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo's biggest challenge on a nightly basis this season has been to get all his players at-bats. Last night, injuries impacted his decisions.

David Newhan, who had started three straight games, likely would not have started yesterday anyway because left-hander Casey Fossum was on the mound for the Devil Rays. However, a sore finger, caused when Newhan slid into the knee of Wigginton trying to get back to first after his fourth-inning single on Tuesday, made Perlozzo's decision easier. Newhan was sent for X-rays, but Perlozzo didn't foresee the injury being serious.

Normally the team's designated hitter, Javy Lopez was also given the night off because of a bone bruise on his right thumb and right elbow soreness. In Lopez's place was Kevin Millar, who smashed a two-run second-inning homer off Fossum to give the Orioles a lead. The homer, which was Millar's first as an Oriole, landed about 10 rows deep into the left-field bleachers.

The early two-run cushion barely seemed comfortable, especially with Cabrera completely losing touch with his command in the third inning. It started with a one-out walk to No. 9 hitter, Joey Gathright, who proceeded to steal second. After blowing away leadoff man Carl Crawford with a high fastball, Cabrera gift-wrapped walks to Russell Branyan and Gomes, loading the bases.

The right-hander then unleashed a wild pitch, allowing Gathright to score easily from third. Cabrera walked Travis Lee, but after falling behind 2-0 to Wigginton with the bases loaded, he got the Devil Rays' third baseman to fly out to center fielder Luis Matos.

Cabrera pumped his fist twice as he walked off the mound, satisfied about performing the damage control that Perlozzo has been on him about. But he threw 30 pitches in the inning and his struggles were only beginning.

He gave up a single and walked two more in the fourth, but he struck out Branyan with the bases loaded, his third strikeout of the inning.

He again wriggled out of trouble in the fifth, loading the bases again on two walks and a single, before getting Perez to fly out in shallow left to Nick Markakis. He pumped his fist again. His last walk across the tightrope was over and he walked to the dug out with his head held high and in a position to get a victory.

And on this night, that alone was nothing short of a miracle.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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