NEW YORK - Daniel Cabrera had a five-run lead in the eighth inning and was in position to win for just the second time in 13 starts. There seemingly was no reason for him to intentionally throw at New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
But as soon as Cabrera's pitch hit Rodriguez's left shoulder, plate umpire Chad Fairchild got out of his crouch and threw the Orioles starter out of the game, believing the pitch was retaliation for Rodriguez's solo homer two innings earlier.
The incident set the tone for a wild final two innings in which All-Star closer George Sherrill nearly blew a four-run lead before preserving the Orioles' 7-6 victory before an announced 54,241.
"It's tough to get them out, but that's my job," Sherrill said. "It didn't go too hot tonight."
After Aubrey Huff's solo home run in the top of the ninth off Mariano Rivera - Huff's fourth hit and fourth RBI of the game - gave the Orioles a 7-3 lead, Sherrill allowed an RBI double to Bobby Abreu and a two-run single to Jason Giambi. With the tying run on second and one out, he struck out Robinson Cano and Wilson Betemit to end the game.
It was the third straight victory for the Orioles, who will try today for their first three-game series sweep at Yankee Stadium since June 1986. They've already clinched their first series victory since taking two of three from the Chicago Cubs from June 24 to 26.
Cabrera allowed three earned runs in seven-plus innings, securing just his second victory since May 20 and improving to 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA against the Yankees this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's the first Orioles pitcher to beat New York three times in one season since Steve Stone did it in 1980. However, his victory was marred by the incident with Rodriguez.
"[Fairchild] was basing his decision on the previous at-bat that Rodriguez hit a home run," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I said, 'Chad, I have seen a lot of baseball games and the one thing you just did is the one thing we've been trying to avoid. You just let 54,000 people back in this game.'
"I thought that was just a real key moment of the game and that woke them up and got 54,000 fans back in the game. We can agree to disagree on that ... but I would bet the farm that Cabrera wasn't throwing [at him] in that situation. ... I don't think he did it. If he did, he sure put one over on me. I think I know him better than anybody."
Cabrera denied throwing at Rodriguez, saying: "I know everybody in the whole stadium and every player, they know I'm not trying to hit A-Rod. ... How am I going to put someone on base? So, it surprised me."
Fairchild said his thinking with the ejection was "when Alex came to bat the prior time, he had hit a home run, and the very first pitch his next at-bat was up towards the head area. I deemed that pitch intentional and I removed Cabrera from the game."
Rodriguez also said he didn't think the pitch was intentional, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn't sound so sure. "It's happened a few times with this guy. ... We know at times he has some control issues, but it's just awful dangerous when you're up there. ... I'm just going to say I didn't like it."
Trembley said Cabrera, who had thrown 103 pitches, was going to be removed from the game even if he hadn't been ejected. However, the incident certainly appeared to fire up the crowd and the Yankees. They scored twice in the eighth inning to cut the Orioles' lead to 6-3 before Jim Johnson froze Xavier Nady on a 3-2 curveball to end the inning. Then the ninth became an adventure for Sherrill.
"The last three outs are the toughest outs to get in Yankee Stadium and I am real proud of my team for the way they hung in there," Trembley said.