Cabrera Makes Major Debut
In First Big League Game, Oriole Gives Up 2 Hits in 6 Scoreless Innings : Orioles 1-5, White Sox 0-6
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; Page D07
CHICAGO, May 13 -- As he took a deep breath and prepared to throw the first pitch of his big league career, Daniel Cabrera, he admitted later, was nervous. But the butterflies lasted only as long as it took for his 92-mph fastball to disappear into Javy Lopez's glove for strike one. Suddenly overcome with a sense of belonging, the Baltimore Orioles' 22-year-old debutant brazenly shook off a sign from Lopez, a 10-year veteran, and pumped another fastball for strike two.
Six innings later, Cabrera was bounding off the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, shooting a fist into the air. He didn't know it at the time, but his day was over -- and what a remarkable day it was: six shutout innings of two-hit ball, and a 1-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox in the first game of an afternoon doubleheader.
In the second game, rookie lefty Erik Bedard, on the verge of joining Cabrera as a first-time winner, blew a two-run lead in the sixth inning -- as storm clouds rolled in from the west -- by giving up a three-run homer to Paul Konerko on an 0-2 fastball, minutes before the skies opened up. After waiting out a 1-hour 42-minute rain delay, the Orioles fell quietly to a 6-5 loss.
The Orioles brought the go-ahead run to the plate with three chances in the ninth inning after Larry Bigbie drew a leadoff walk against White Sox closer Billy Koch, but Brian Roberts, Jerry Hairston and Melvin Mora went down in order to end the game.
And so, the Orioles dressed and returned home Thursday night, after more than seven hours of playing baseball and waiting around to play baseball, with one uplifting win, one crushing loss and -- perhaps most significantly -- one promising revelation by the name of Cabrera.
Called up two days earlier when lefty Matt Riley went on the disabled list -- owning no career wins above Class A -- Cabrera arrived in Chicago just in time to chart pitches during Tuesday night's game, de rigueur for the starter whose turn in the rotation is next. Apparently, observing in detail the White Sox' 15-0 thrashing of three Orioles pitchers that night was not enough to dissuade Cabrera from taking the mound Thursday.
"I felt confident," Cabrera said through an interpreter after the game. "I was going right after these guys -- the same thing I worked on in spring training and in Double-A [Bowie] this year."
Few scenes warm the hearts of baseball insiders more than that of a graceful young pitcher -- a description that accurately describes Cabrera, despite his lanky 6-foot-7 frame -- announcing his arrival with a definitive performance in his debut.
"He did a hell of a job," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said about Cabrera. "To shut down a team with an offense like that, that's pretty good pitching. He rose to the occasion. I'm happy for him."
Throwing almost exclusively fastballs (which topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun) in the early innings, Cabrera allowed an infield single in the first inning -- a play which third baseman Mora might have been able to make with a stronger, earlier throw -- and a lined single to right in the sixth, both by White Sox right fielder Ross Gload.
Meantime, the Orioles pushed across a run in the first inning against right-hander Jon Garland (2-2) -- when leadoff man Roberts singled, stole second and scored on Mora's single to left -- and saw it hold up for nine innings.
Mazzilli lifted Cabrera following the sixth, with his pitch-count at 91, and turned the game over to the Orioles' bullpen. Ace reliever Rodrigo Lopez handled the seventh and eighth -- lowering his ERA to 0.33 -- and closer Jorge Julio pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
The win made Cabrera (1-0) the first Orioles starter to win his major league debut since Rocky Coppinger on June 11, 1996.
Cabrera, who in just a few months vaulted past John Maine and Denny Bautista in the pipeline of Orioles' pitching prospects, is guaranteed only one more start before Riley's scheduled return. But with the rotation starved for effective starts, he could make it difficult for the team to send him back to the minors.
"We'll see where that goes from here," Mazzilli said.
In the second game, Bedard (0-1) had a 5-3 lead (courtesy of homers by Rafael Palmeiro, Luis Matos, Hairston and Mora), a string of four straight scoreless innings and an 0-2 count on Konerko when his fate turned completely around. Trying to bust Konerko inside with a high fastball, Bedard instead left it over the plate, and Konerko crushed it to left-center for a three-run homer.
"When you're [ahead] 0-2, you can't let that happen," Mazzilli said. "You have to put him away. He was a pitch away from having one of those games, coming away feeling real good."
Orioles Notes: Veteran designated hitter David Segui had arthroscopic surgery Tuesday in Kansas City to clean out his right knee. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks. It was his fourth surgery on that knee. . . .
Before Cabrera's performance Thursday, the Orioles had not had a quality start (at least six innings pitched, with three or fewer runs allowed) out of its rotation since May 3.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company