Brawl is avoided, but O's left reeling

After benches empty, Sheffield's 2-run HR KO's O's

Tigers 8 Orioles 4

May 01, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

DETROIT -- When the benches cleared in the top of the fifth inning, a mass of players darting in from different directions and converging at home plate, several players and umpires got between Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera and Detroit Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield. That perhaps was the only thing that prevented a mouthy and at times cantankerous standoff from becoming a full-fledged melee.

But this time, there was nobody in between the two. It was just the 6-foot-9, 269-pound pitcher staring down from the mound at one of the game's most feared hitters, who dug in 60 feet, 6 inches away and returned a menacing glare.

With one mighty swing of his bat, Sheffield delivered a knockout of both Cabrera and the Orioles. He slammed and then thoroughly admired a two-run home run that broke a fifth-inning tie and sent the Tigers on their way to an 8-4 victory in the series opener last night before 24,914 at rainy Comerica Park.

"You can't predict it obviously, but when you hit a home run in that situation, it's special," Sheffield said. "I was always told by Dave Parker, when you hit it like that, you can look at it."

Jay Gibbons' first home run of the season, a bases-empty shot in the sixth inning, was not enough to prevent the Orioles (12-14) from losing for the seventh time in eight games.

But the end result almost seemed to be an afterthought to what transpired in the fifth inning after Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman threw a fastball near the legs of Miguel Tejada, forcing the Orioles shortstop to hop over the pitch. He then pointed his bat at the pitcher, exchanged words with Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez and both benches and bullpens quickly cleared.

"I was in his face, too. I'm ready to fight. I'm ready to fight with them," an agitated Tejada said outside the visiting clubhouse. "What can I do? There's nothing more I can do. I was in the middle of the fight. I've got to be ready for something to happen."

No punches were thrown in the fracas that occurred in the fifth inning of a 3-3 game and was probably triggered two innings earlier, when Sheffield was hit on the arm by Cabrera's fastball.

If Bonderman was throwing a retaliation pitch - and he denied he was - it was the appropriate time. There were two outs and nobody was on and the Orioles' best hitter was at the plate.

"I am not trying to start a war with anybody," Bonderman said. "If I hit somebody, it's by accident.

"He's a great hitter, one of the best in the game. But a strength for me is pitching him inside. That's where you have to pitch him."

Tejada, who has been hit three times this season, one fewer than Sheffield, said after the game that he is tiring of how far inside teams have been pitching him. Those team include the Tigers, whose young right-hander Justin Verlander hit Tejada in the back on April 11. Two innings after that, Orioles starter Adam Loewen hit Sheffield right under the name on his jersey. But unlike Tejada, Sheffield quietly took his base.

"I got drilled and nobody said a word, and our pitcher threw at Tejada's foot and he took offense to it," Sheffield said. "We didn't initiate anything"

Bonderman and Tejada took a couple of steps toward each other before plate umpire Wally Bell and Rodriguez stepped in. That's when Tejada and Rodriguez, a friend of the Orioles shortstop, started jawing at each other. Tejada said Rodriguez accused him of starting it, which ignited the Oriole further.

"I'm supposed to get mad, right? I'm a human being. ... If they hit me, of course I'm going to get mad," Tejada said. "I've got to keep my mouth shut? I can't keep my mouth shut. I've got to say something to them. I said to my pitcher, `See the way they pitch me? Look at the way they pitch me.'

"I didn't know they were going to try to hit me. How do I know? I'm not in his mind. In that moment, I just really got mad, because the ball [went toward] my body. I think ... everybody would get mad if this happened."

During the on-field meeting around home plate, Orioles third base coach Juan Samuel, who was in the Tigers organization from 1999 to 2005, also had to be physically restrained from going after one of the Tigers. The situation appeared to be dying down until Sheffield and Cabrera starting arguing. One umpire had to physically restrain Sheffield, while Orioles reserve Freddie Bynum put his arms around Cabrera and drove him back toward the Orioles dugout. Cabrera declined to speak to reporters after the game.

"I wasn't going out there to initiate anything or say anything," Sheffield said. "When Cabrera started chirping at [manager Jim Leyland], that's when I said something."

Order was eventually restored, but any control Cabrera had of the game was not. The pitcher issued six of the Orioles' eight walks in the game, prompting manager Sam Perlozzo to say, "He just didn't command anything."

That included the 2-1, fifth-inning fastball that he threw to Sheffield, who walked about a third of the way down to first base to watch the majestic flight of the 408-foot shot. Cabrera stared at him the whole way, though umpires worked quickly to encircle the mound and make sure nothing escalated.

"I have the utmost respect for Sheffield," Perlozzo said. "I've watched him for years. If I had to pick someone [to tick off], he wouldn't be the guy."

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