Cabrera had labored through the early innings but seemed to find himself in the fourth, when he coaxed an inning-ending double play from No. 9 hitter Adam Lind with the bases loaded. The right-hander got through the fifth and sixth innings without allowing a single baserunner, but he allowed the Blue Jays to sandwich two base hits around a fly ball in the seventh.
Even with a four-run lead, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley went directly to his bullpen. He decided that he'd seen enough of his workhorse -- even with a relatively light number of pitches (101) -- and handed the ball to Dennis Sarfate. The reliever got one out, but then he walked a batter and allowed Toronto to tie the game on a triple and a base hit.
The Blue Jays went on to win the game in the ninth with the help of two errors, but the game truly turned in the seventh. Sarfate was unavailable for comment after the game, but Trembley explained why he went away from Cabrera.
"I thought he worked way too hard tonight," he said. "He might've been 50-50 or less than 50-50 with balls [and] strikes. His tempo early in the game was very deliberate and very slow. I think he rubbed up the ball on every pitch in between [batters]. He just didn't seem to get in any kind of rhythm early. ... Cabrera being who he is, he competes. I thought we were fortunate to get him through the sixth, [but] he had a couple easy innings before that. And they kind of let him off the hook."
Perhaps most importantly, Trembley had the game exactly where he wanted it. He had said in recent days that Sarfate is his dedicated seventh-inning arm, entrusted to bridge the gap between the starter and the back end of the bullpen. And Sarfate got as close as one pitch away, but Alex Rios tripled to left-center and scored on an infield single to tie the game.
"From what I saw, he was pitching away a lot," Trembley said of Sarfate. "He might've been a little tentative. It's the first time for him out there in that kind of a situation. You know, I would've liked to see him probably pitch in a little more, but still he's one pitch away from getting out of it. So for the first time, you've got to say it was OK. But it wasn't what we needed."
Rios was right back in the mix in the ninth, when he stole second, moved to third on a throwing error by Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez and scored when a grounder went through shortstop Freddie Bynum's legs. Toronto (43-47) hadn't won a game all season after trailing by a deficit of four runs and had been 1-27 when trailing by as many as three runs.
"It's really hard to lose a game when you're winning by the seventh by four or five runs," Hernandez said. "It definitely gets you down, especially the first game of the series. That's the biggest game -- you've got to win when you play on the road. You try to win the first game you play so you can have two games to come out and win the series."
"It doesn't take rocket science to figure it out," added Trembley of the endgame. "If you give them five outs late in the ballgame, they're going to score a run and they're going to beat you -- especially on the road."
Cabrera, meanwhile, added to a strange statistical trend. The hulking right-hander has given up runs in the first inning in 10 of his 19 starts, but he's somehow managed to log a 6-3 record in those circumstances. Cabrera allowed one run in the first and one run in the fourth on Tuesday, and Trembley elected to hook him with one out in the seventh.
"I think he made a lot of a pitches to get out of innings," said Hernandez, citing two key double plays. "I think he pitched well. He located. It was pretty tough for him tonight. He was kind of battling his fastball control, but when he needed to make the pitch, he was making it. He was getting out of the jams every time he got into them."
The Orioles (44-44) took their first lead on an Aubrey Huff home run in the first inning, and they pulled ahead again in the third with help from an error and a wild pitch. Adam Jones got into scoring position on a two-base error, moved to third on a bunt and scored on an errant pitch. Four innings later, Nick Markakis gave them a four-run lead on a two-run single.
"We tack on two runs late in the game and it becomes a three-inning game," said Trembley. "We've got [Jim] Johnson and [George] Sherrill down there, so you kind of think the game's going to be in your favor. You've got to get those outs in the seventh. Not getting the No. 9 guy out again, and the walk to [Marco] Scutaro -- that was probably the crucial one.
"The walk to Scutaro allowed the guys that are hitting three and four to come up there."