By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006
NEW YORK, Sept. 28 -- No bigger enigma exists on the Baltimore Orioles than Daniel Cabrera, a hard-throwing but often erratic giant, capable of great or harrowing feats. Walk nine batters in a game? The 6-foot-7 right-hander with a fastball that flirts with 100 mph has done that. Throw a no-hitter? Thursday night in the Bronx, he came within two outs of the feat in a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees.
Cabrera nearly became the first Orioles pitcher to throw a complete game no-hitter since 1969. Robinson Cano's one-out single landed in front of left fielder Jeff Fiorentino, who could only helplessly watch history being dashed.
"I almost dove for it but I would have been 15 feet off," Fiorentino said.
The game ended one pitch later on Bobby Abreu's double play grounder. Cabrera, who improved to 9-10 with a 4.74 ERA, had a masterpiece, but not a no-hitter. After the game ended, an elated Cabrera embraced Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo and simply said one word: "Almost."
Cabrera's reaction was understandable for a young pitcher who has had trouble being consistently good. He beamed while talking to reporters and said he was not one bit disappointed.
"When I woke up today, I never thought I'd have that type of game," he explained. "I never thought I'd ever be that close to a no- hitter."
No single pitcher had thrown a no-hitter against the Yankees since 1958 when Baltimore's Hoyt Wilhelm did so at Yankee Stadium, becoming the first Baltimore pitcher to accomplish the feat. Four Orioles pitchers had combined to throw a no-hitter in 1991, but it was Jim Palmer, a color commentator for Thursday's game, in 1969 who was the last Baltimore pitcher to do it by himself.
Cabrera stared at Cano at first base after the single and said perhaps the two would no longer be friends. Cano and Cabrera live just 10 minutes apart in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic and have been friends for 10 years.
"I thought he was going to give me a crazy swing to give me the no-hitter," Cabrera joked. "I'll have to talk to him. I think he's not my friend anymore."
"We are friends but this is a game," Cano said.
While the Orioles batted, and the no-hitter was intact, Cabrera sat at the end of the bench and chatted with infielder Fernando Tatis. After the seventh inning, Tatis grabbed a towel and dabbed at Cabrera's face and neck and then waved the towel back and forth, giving Cabrera a bit of a cool breeze. Cabrera simply chuckled. If an attempt at history was a burden, Cabrera did not show it.
"I was trying to distract him so he wouldn't get nervous and he could relax," Tatis said. "He was able to maintain the same composure throughout, and that was the objective."
What made it easier for Cabrera was that his offense gave him a comfortable early lead. Catcher Ramon Hernandez set a career high with his 22nd and 23rd home runs of the season. Hernandez has already set a career high with 91 RBI, second on the team only to Miguel Tejada's 100 RBI.
Tejada reached the century mark with a two-run single in the first inning. A single in the fourth inning gave Tejada 211 hits on the season, which tied Cal Ripken for the Orioles' single season mark set in 1983. Yet the record remained an afterthought on Thursday.
In most no-hitters or near no-hitters there is usually one play that threatens to unravel everything. There were several in this one. Everyone at Yankee Stadium eagerly anticipated official scorer Bill Shannon's call in the sixth inning when Yankees shortstop Miguel Cairo reached base on a ground ball to Tejada. The ball had trickled up the middle and Tejada made a good play in getting to it, but he made an errant throw to first baseman Kevin Millar, who could not snatch the throw. Shannon ruled an error for Millar.
The Yankee Stadium crowd also booed when Shannon ruled an error on Brian Roberts, who misplayed a ground ball hit by Bobby Abreu in the seventh inning. Roberts clearly should have made the play. Another close call came in the seventh when third baseman Melvin Mora was eaten up by a hard-hit ball from Gary Sheffield. Mora charged the ball, but it bounced off the heel of his glove, allowing Abreu to score. Again Shannon ruled an error, which again drew boos from the crowd.
The crowd was only pleased when Cano singled, his first hit against Cabrera in 10 career at-bats.
"I thought it was a really good pitch inside," Cabrera said of the 0-1 pitch. "I thought I made the right pitch."