Orioles 5, Devil Rays 4
Some four hours before the start of the second half of the Baltimore Orioles' season, embattled manager Lee Mazzilli addressed his players near the mound at Tropicana Field -- presumably delivering a version of the standard let's-get-this-thing-turned-around speech that has been delivered by embattled managers for generations -- then put them through a one-hour, spring training-style workout.
Suitably inspired, the Orioles went out and issued five walks, got caught stealing three times and stranded seven baserunners in the first five innings of their second-half opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
But two Orioles who were not in the majors in April lifted them out of their funk. Rookie pitcher Daniel Cabrera rallied from a slow start to give six strong innings, and third baseman David Newhan smashed a tiebreaking two-run triple in the seventh inning, lifting the Orioles to a 5-4 victory in front of a crowd of 16,185.
"It's good to get off with a win, no question," said Mazzilli, who began the second half amid increased scrutiny over his job security.
In a season full of disappointments, Newhan has been nothing short of a godsend for the Orioles. Signed out of the Texas Rangers' farm system as a bench player a month ago, he has hit everything thrown near him. Three hits Thursday sent his batting average soaring to .433. Toss out a fly out as a pinch hitter on July 4, and Newhan has hit safely in 23 straight games.
On Thursday night, the Devil Rays made mid-inning pitching changes three times with Newhan coming to the plate, an indication of how big an impression he has made already.
"They're searching for ways to get him out," said Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley. "He's hit such a variety of pitchers, you can't help but be impressed."
Cabrera, too, has been a revelation on a pitching staff rife with inconsistency, emerging from Class AA in May to become the Orioles' ersatz ace, while leading all AL rookies in wins (seven), innings pitched (82/3) and ERA (3.01).
Cabrera (7-3) was starting Thursday night in place of lefty Erik Bedard, whose had weather-related travel issues and did not arrive at Tropicana Field until late afternoon; Bedard will start Friday afternoon instead.
"He's very confident for a young man like that," Mazzilli said of Cabrera.
A week ago, the Orioles were talking about giving Cabrera a breather, out of concern for his high workload and inexperience. However, between Sidney Ponson's strained groin last weekend and Bedard's travel issues this week, Cabrera has made each of his last recent starts on his usual four days' rest, negating any restorative benefits of the all-star break.
For whatever reason, Cabrera was not his usual self Thursday night. He gave up a two-run homer to Aubrey Huff in the first inning, and by the third he had already tied his season high with five walks.
However, after the fifth of those walks, Cabrera retired nine of his last 10 batters to keep the Orioles in the game. They tied it on Larry Bigbie's solo homer off Trevor Miller to straightaway center in the sixth -- only the third extra-base hit and second homer against a lefty this season for Bigbie. The Orioles then went ahead in the seventh after Newhan lined a Bobby Seay breaking ball into the right-field corner for a two-run triple. Newhan is hitting .448 against lefties this season.
The Orioles' bullpen delivered the final nine outs, with closer Jorge Julio earning his 13th save despite coming 90 feet from another blown save in his personal terrordome. Julio loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of singles and a walk before getting Julio Lugo to fly out to end the game.
"I believe in him," Mazzilli said. "You go with your closer. You live and die with him."