Cabrera punishes mistakes in Orioles' 6-2 loss to Tigers

Hernandez loads bases in 8th; RBI leader hits three-run double

September 12, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Detroit — — Miguel Cabrera's giant shadow loomed in the batter's box even before David Hernandez threw his first pitch to pinch hitter Austin Jackson, making the task of the Orioles' reliever pretty evident.

With men on second and third and no outs and the Orioles leading by a run in the eighth inning, Hernandez needed to retire Jackson without the Tigers scoring a run. That would allow Hernandez to intentionally walk Cabrera to load the bases and set up a situation where one groundball could get the Orioles out of the inning with their lead intact.

That was the idea anyway, but that plan blew up when Hernandez walked Jackson, forcing him to face the Major League RBI leader without a base open. Cabrera promptly smacked Hernandez's first pitch into the left center-field gap, the three-run double pushing the Detroit Tigers to a 6-2 victory in front of an announced 24,170 at Comerica Park.

"There's no reason I should walk Jackson, obviously," said Hernandez who missed outside with a 3-2 fastball after he was ahead of Jackson, 1-2. "But once it got to bases loaded and no outs and probably the best hitter in the league up, you want to get ahead. I just left a fastball over the plate, belt high, and he did what he's supposed to do with it."

The Tigers' five-run eighth, which included Brandon Inge's two-run homer off Alfredo Simon, salvaged a victory for ace Justin Verlander and one game in the three-game set, and sent the Orioles (55-88) back to Baltimore, lamenting how a solid road trip could have been even better.

The Orioles, who lost for just the second time in their past eight games, went 4-2, taking series from both the Tigers and New York Yankees. But in both their losses, their bullpen blew leads in the eighth inning or later. On Wednesday in New York, closer Koji Uehara allowed a game-ending, two-run homer to Nick Swisher.

With Uehara unavailable Sunday after he saved the first two games of the series, Michael Gonzalez and Hernandez allowed the first four Tigers to bat in the eighth reach base. This was after Detroit managed just one hit through 6 2/3 innings against Orioles starter Chris Tillman.

"I know that's the big picture, but the small picture is we had a chance to win another baseball game," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter when asked about his team's 4-2 record on the trip, and winning back-to-back road series for the first time since 2008. "You can't get involved in what is a good series and what is a good road trip. You want to win them all. You don't do the mathematics. That's something you look at over the course of the season. You have an opportunity like that — you're six outs away — you'd like to get it done."

The trouble started when Gonzalez, who retired Alex Avila to strand two of Tillman's baserunners in the seventh, couldn't put away leadoff man Will Rhymes and allowed a single to left field. Ryan Raburn then directed a Gonzalez changeup down the third-base line, putting runners on second and third and prompting Showalter to summon Hernandez from the bullpen to face the right-handed hitting Jackson.

That's when things went from bad to worse.

"What I really feel bad about is how Tillman did," Gonzalez said. "He went out there and threw the ball really well, showed what he's about. You always want to finish it off with a win."

In his second start since getting his third call-up from Triple-A Norfolk, Tillman allowed an RBI groundout to Casper Wells ( Towson University) in the second inning and nothing else through six. Taking in account Tillman's efforts, the Orioles' six starters on the trip combined to go 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA.

However, Tillman wasn't entirely blameless. His command, spotty at times earlier in the game, got away from him in the seventh inning, forcing his departure.

Tillman walked Brennan Boesch for the third time with one out in the seventh. Two batters later, he issued a two-out walk to Wells, spurring Showalter to go to his bullpen. The only hit Tillman allowed was a one-out single to Inge in the second inning, but he did walk a career-high six. And five of those went to the Boesch and Wells, who hit sixth and eighth in the Tigers' lineup respectively.

Tillman did retire Cabrera all three times, two of them on strikeouts.

"It was a battle throughout," said Tillman. "Me and [catcher Jake Fox] hung in there and battled through it. The six walks definitely killed me. That got my pitch count up there."

On the other hand, the Orioles couldn't get Verlander into the showers soon enough. Brian Roberts started the game with an 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in a strikeout, but Verlander had little trouble until the fifth inning.

That's when Felix Pie hit a one-out single and then stole second base. He scored on Fox's triple into the right center-field gap. Fox then trotted home on a Verlander wild pitch. But the Orioles couldn't push across any more off Verlander, who got out of a runners-on-the-corners and one-out jam in the sixth.

Verlander (16-8) struck out 11, including Nick Markakis on three pitches to end the top of the eighth. He then watched from the dugout as the Tigers' offense turned a potential loss into a victory against the Orioles' bullpen.

"You can't paint yourself in a corner with Cabrera," Showalter said. "We shouldn't feel like he is picking on us. He does that to a lot of people. He just makes you pay for your mistakes."

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