Orioles 7, Royals 2

It took Baltimore Orioles infielder Luis Lopez a few minutes, but he eventually found one word to describe Daniel Cabrera's pitching Saturday afternoon.

Normal.

Normal that he gave up no runs and just three hits in seven innings to lift the Orioles to a 7-2 win over the Kansas City Royals in front of 33,493 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Normal that he's given up five earned runs in his last five starts, which span more than 37 innings.

Normal that, as a 23-year-old rookie who had never pitched above Class A before this season, he's become the Orioles' gem, their most reliable pitcher.

"He's done some amazing things, but we've come to expect that out of him," Lopez said. "He's just that special."

Cabrera continued to live up to such lofty expectations Saturday afternoon, saving the Orioles from dipping 12 games under .500 for the first time all season. On a near-perfect day for the Orioles that included consistent hitting and solid fielding, Cabrera's pitching stood out as the highlight.

"The thing that amazes me most is his poise out there," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He's never bothered by anything, which is just tremendous. He was excellent again."

And to think, the Orioles planned for Cabrera to spend yesterday afternoon sitting in the bullpen and watching Sidney Ponson. Not until Friday night did Mazzilli decide to rest Ponson because of a sore right groin and, perhaps, general ineffectiveness.

"It's a little soreness," Mazzilli said, "but we also want to rest him a little bit and let him clear his head."

That might require more than a few days considering Ponson's first half of the season. He's 3-12 with a 6.29 ERA, and misery seems to stalk his every step.

On Saturday, he walked near the locker room with a slight limp and grumbled, "I'm not feeling so good."

It was in stark contrast to Cabrera, who seems to have treasured his big league emergence over the last few months. On the mound, he oozes confidence, smiling widely after strikeouts and pointing enthusiastically at teammates after good plays.

In the locker room, he's just as bubbly. Even though his English is underdeveloped, he speaks that language to a horde of reporters after each game he pitches. When he forgets words, he laughs and apologizes.

"I've been feeling really good," said Cabrera, who is 6-3 with a 2.90 ERA. "For me, this has all been so fun."

It's been agonizing for hitters who have faced him. On Saturday, the Royals waved aimlessly at his pitches, even though he pitched against Kansas City just 10 days ago. Cabrera faced 13 batters in the first four innings and, during that time, no Royals runner reached second base.

Even though he has pitched more than 30 innings in 16 days, Cabrera stayed strong until he left the game after the seventh inning. His fastball had the same, 92-mph pop to which the Orioles have become accustomed. His curveball dipped into the mid-seventies, and twice Kansas City players watched it plummet over the plate for a called third strike.

"He's given us great starting pitching," shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "He pitches like a star."

Cabrera began the year in Class AA, but he has become the success story of this Baltimore season. His six wins lead all American League rookies, and no Baltimore pitcher has earned more.

The offense made his performance matter Saturday. After scoring no runs -- and never even reaching second base -- in a 7-0 loss to Kansas City on Friday, the Orioles atoned by belting Royals starter Mike Wood.

Oddly, it was Rafael Palmeiro who ignited the offense in the second inning.

Palmeiro's been knee-deep in a slump of his own, hitting just .243 this season. But he lifted a two-run homer over the right field wall -- barely -- to give his team a 2-0 lead.

The Orioles finally chased Wood in the fifth inning. David Newhan continued his hot streak, slapping a base hit to drive in Lopez.

Tejada stepped up next and hammered a double to score Brian Roberts and Newhan for a 5-0 lead. Baltimore added two more runs in the eighth inning, with the game secure.

The Royals broke the shutout in the ninth inning, scoring two runs against Jorge Julio to spoil an otherwise perfect day for the Orioles.

"I got a lot of run support now, so I can be more relaxed and play the game," Cabrera said. "I guess things for me are going pretty good."

Orioles Note: Palmeiro will compete in the all-star weekend home run derby Monday and, unlike some players, he's not worried the event will ruin his swing. "In my case, hopefully I'll find that swing that I've been trying so hard to look for," said Palmeiro, who is hitting .165 against lefties.

Daniel Cabrera, 23, leads AL rookies with six wins: "For me, this has all been so fun." It's close, but Brian Roberts applies tag in time to cut down K.C.'s Ruben Mateo. Orioles did everything right in ending three-game losing streak.