Blue Jays 3, Orioles 2
-- It would have been the first time in Daniel Cabrera's young career that he had faced an adverse situation and did not flinch. Yet after securing the first two outs in the fifth inning after Toronto had loaded the bases with no outs, the 24-year-old Cabrera did flinch -- literally -- ruining what would have been a tremendous escape.
With men on first and third and two outs, Cabrera balked in the decisive run in Baltimore's 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays. The balk put the Orioles just one game ahead of the streaking Boston Red Sox for the first time since May 14.
"I moved and I didn't throw the ball," Cabrera said.
He had no other explanation. Each game this season has been a lesson for Cabrera. On Wednesday, he learned how much is lost with one simple inadvertent movement on the mound.
"I think he was thinking too much about the pitch he wanted to throw," catcher Geronimo Gil said. "I think that took him out of his rhythm. They will not allow that type of movement."
With no outs in that fifth inning, the Blue Jays loaded the bases on a double, a walk and a single. It appeared to clearly signal the end for Cabrera, who often has failed to minimize rallies. Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli, unsure that Cabrera could neutralize the threat, had reliever Todd Williams start throwing in the bullpen.
But something momentous happened. Cabrera did not wilt under the pressure.
He struck out Vernon Wells for the first out. The last two strikes came on looping curveballs. Cabrera then forced a slow grounder to shortstop by Shea Hillenbrand. Miguel Tejada threw to second baseman Brian Roberts for the first out, but Hillenbrand beat the relay throw to first base and Orlando Hudson, the runner on third, was able to score. The game was tied at 2, but Cabrera was just one out away from ending the threat.
"If you get out of the inning with one run, that's okay," Mazzilli said. "He could very easily have done that."
With two outs, Eric Hinske came to the plate. Cabrera set himself on the mound, stared at Gil for a few moments, but flinched prior to throwing a pitch.
"All of the umpires saw it at the same time," Mazzilli said. "It was obvious to all of us. We saw it."
Toronto shortstop Russ Adams scored the go-ahead run on the balk. It is nothing new for Baltimore to see a game undone by such a play. Entering the game, the Orioles led the major leagues with six balks.
"Some are blatant, some are not," Mazzilli said. "I don't think it's a trend."
Cabrera did not lose his composure after balking. He eventually struck out Hinske on a breaking ball. But the inning took a toll, raising his pitch count for the game to 100. Mazzilli did not allow him to pitch the sixth. Cabrera (5-7) was replaced by Williams.
"He got too high in his pitch count too early," Mazzilli said. "We wanted him to go deeper into the game. He just didn't do it."
Pete Walker (3-0), a reliever making his first start of the season, and four relievers helped stop Baltimore's offense. The Orioles' best chance to tie the game happened in the sixth inning, when they had men on first and second with no outs. But Sammy Sosa struck out, and Rafael Palmeiro and Jay Gibbons each flied out.
Another rally was wiped out by a base-running mistake. Luis Matos was hit by a pitch to start the eighth inning, but was thrown out at second on an apparent hit-and-run. Tejada swung and missed at a pitch from reliever Justin Speier while Matos was running to second. Catcher Gregg Zaun threw to the right of second baseman Hudson, who stretched out to catch the throw and appeared to tag out Matos on the calf.
Replays seemed to show second base umpire Mark Wegner made the correct call. Neither Matos nor Mazzilli agreed with the call at the time. Matos stayed at second base for several moments. Mazzilli sprinted toward Wegner. The two exchanged words for several moments, but the call stood. Two pitches later, Tejada doubled to left field. He was stranded when Sosa flied out to center and Palmeiro struck out.
The Orioles did not do a good job of alleviating concerns about their ability to overcome Melvin Mora's right hamstring strain. Though the injury is not considered serious, Mora will at least miss three games.
It was a simple ground ball that caused Mora's injury. It was a simple flinch that cost Baltimore Wednesday's game.