O's Continue to Build On Lead, Momentum

By Jorge Arangure, Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005

BALTIMORE, May 26 -- As the Baltimore Orioles wondered whether another pitcher in the starting rotation could continue Erik Bedard's dominance, Daniel Cabrera threw seven solid innings against the Seattle Mariners in a 5-2 victory on Thursday night.

As the Orioles worried whether injuries would wreck their surprising season, they won their third straight and climbed 14 games above .500 for the first time this year, improving their lead in the AL East to a season-high 4 1/2 games.

Baltimore's ability to cope with injuries may very well determine its ability to contend for a playoff spot. So far, it must be commended.

"Chemistry, I think, is big," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "And good pitching does it."

It is absolutely necessary that Cabrera gain consistency through this stretch without Bedard, who has the second-best ERA in the American League but was placed on the disabled list on Thursday with a strained left knee. Cabrera is dominant when in control.

"With Erik going down, Daniel has to be a stopper," catcher Sal Fasano said. "If we fall into a rut, with that stuff, he can shut down the door on some people. We really need him."

Cabrera was almost flawless through the first five innings and did not allow his first hit until Jeremy Reed's single in the sixth. Seattle scored in that inning when Ichiro Suzuki tripled and came home on Randy Winn's sacrifice fly.

"He located the fastball very well," Mazzilli said. "For me, the best pitch in baseball is a good located fastball. When you can throw it consistently, chances are you're going to go a long way in the game."

In the seventh, Cabrera's control appeared to abandon him. Twice he threw fastballs behind Seattle hitters. The one to Reed caused the center fielder to almost fall forward.

"I was trying to throw strikes and the ball moved," Cabrera said.

After the first day Sammy Sosa missed with an abscess in his left foot, the Orioles had a 2 1/2 -game lead in the division. On the day he returned, Baltimore's lead was three games. Baltimore has built its lead by another 1 1/2 games since Javy Lopez was placed on the disabled list with a broken bone in his right hand.

Baltimore had been lucky that none of its injuries, until Bedard, had affected the pitching staff. But there is reason to hope it can escape this stretch unscathed too.

Perhaps in Baltimore's favor is that six of the next seven series are against teams with losing records. Six of the Orioles' next 21 games are against teams (the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies) that are in last place in their respective divisions. Nine of those 21 games are against teams ranked 10th, 15th and 16th in ERA in the National League. Baltimore also will play six games against the two teams (Houston and the Pittsburgh Pirates) ranked last in the NL in runs. Baltimore should consider itself fortunate that nine of its interleague games are against the three worst teams in the NL Central.

"When we go play, we don't have to worry about people that are hurt," third baseman Melvin Mora said. "We have pretty good players here."

Baltimore took the lead in the first inning on a two-run home run by Mora against Seattle starter Ryan Franklin. Rafael Palmeiro hit his fifth home run this month in the sixth to give Baltimore a 3-1 lead. It was the 2,961st hit of Palmeiro's career, tying him for 27th all-time. He is hitting .390 over his last 13 games.

Seattle threatened against reliever Jorge Julio in the eighth with a pair of two-out singles, bringing Mariners slugger Richie Sexson to the plate. Julio got ahead 0-2, but the Seattle first baseman evened the count. With the lead in danger, Julio delivered a blazing fastball past Sexson. Miguel Tejada put the game out of reach in the ninth inning with a two-run homer.

After the home run, Tejada wore a large smile in the dugout. For this team, there hardly seems to be a reason to worry.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company