NEW YORK -- The game almost swung on an umpire's thumb. Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera was dominant for much of Tuesday's game against the Yankees, but one errant pitch earned him an ejection. Cabrera hit 11-time All-Star Alex Rodriguez in the eighth inning and was ejected with a five-run lead, and the Orioles barely held on for a 7-6 win. That brief description may be accurate, but it hardly does the endgame justice. Baltimore closer George Sherrill had a four-run lead when the ninth started, but he sandwiched two hits around a walk to make things interesting. Jason Giambi hit a two-run single to draw the Yankees within one run, and Sherrill struck out two batters to end the threat. But the Orioles -- and perhaps everyone in the stadium -- felt the game turned on the eighth-inning ejection.
"It was tough, because I know everybody in the whole stadium and every player," said Cabrera, who earned just his second win since mid-May. "They know I'm not trying to hit A-Rod. So he took me out, and there's nothing I can do." Baltimore spotted the right-hander a run in the first inning, and he kept New York (58-48) from gaining momentum. Cabrera (7-6) stranded three runners on third base, including a successful diffusion of a bases-loaded jam in the third. The Yankees didn't even get on the scoreboard until the sixth inning, when Rodriguez pounded a solo home run. And that, according to home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild, set the tone for the eighth-inning confrontation. Rodriguez came up with a man on second and no outs of a 6-1 game, and Cabrera threw too far inside and hit him on the left shoulder. Fairchild ejected Cabrera immediately, prompting an argument from manager Dave Trembley and sending the game into instant chaos. "There had been no warnings prior to that point in the game," said Fairchild. "But my thinking with the ejection is when Alex came to bat the prior time, he had hit a home run. And the very first pitch his next at-bat was up towards the head area. I deemed that pitch intentional and I removed Cabrera from the game." "All [Fairchild] has to worry about in that situation is whether he thought the pitcher was throwing at the batter intentionally," added crew chief Jeff Kellogg, who worked second base. "He deemed that to be the case, thus, the ejection." But the Orioles, not surprisingly, saw the entire incident in a different light. Virtually everyone in the clubhouse cited the game situation, saying that Baltimore was more interested in a victory than sending a message. Cabrera denied intent and said he was surprised by the umpire's reaction, and the rest of the visiting team rallied around him. "He was basing his decision on the previous at-bat that Rodriguez hit a home run and now the very next at-bat we pitched inside to him," said Trembley. "And I said, 'Chad, I have seen a lot of baseball games and the one thing you just did is the one thing we've been trying to avoid. You just let 54,000 people back in this game. "We can agree to disagree on that ... but I would bet the farm that Cabrera wasn't throwing [at him] in that situation." "You have a runner on second," agreed catcher Ramon Hernandez. "I don't think he threw at him on purpose. I just think he came inside. Especially with a man on second, he wants to throw a good game. They are a good team. I don't why you'd want to give the other team a chance, either. I think he just missed up. I don't know why you'd try to hit A-Rod." After Cabrera was ejected, the Orioles went to Jim Johnson, who gave up two singles to make it a three-run game, 6-3. Johnson escaped on two strikeouts and a line drive, and Aubrey Huff homered to provide the Orioles one last insurance run. Then came Sherrill, who got a rare chance in a non-save situation and was pushed to the brink by the Yankees. "It's tough to get them out, but that's my job. It didn't go too hot tonight," said Sherrill, who used the term "fire drill" to describe the post-Cabrera portion of the game. "They were kind of mixing in, just taking one and swinging away. With a four-run lead, I just wanted to come in and throw strikes." The Orioles, meanwhile, took advantage of their chances. Baltimore (51-55) made two quick outs in the first inning but wound up with three straight hits to score the game's first run. Kevin Millar pounded a solo homer off Darrell Rasner in the fourth inning, and Baltimore broke away with a bases-clearing double from Huff off Damaso Marte in the seventh. Rasner (5-8) held the Orioles to two runs in the first five innings, but then he gave up a single and hit a batter in the sixth. Huff, who is batting .500 (17-for-34) in his last eight games, finished with a career-high four hits. The Orioles have now won three straight games, and the latest victory helped them earn their first road series win in more than a month. And in the aftermath, Trembley said he was pleased with his team's effort and proud of the way Cabrera pitched. He said the right-hander gathered strength as the game wore on, but he also said he likely would've taken him out after hitting Rodriguez. In that respect, the ejection didn't make much impact, but Trembley would've preferred to make the decision himself. "I just can't conceivably go along with that thought process," said Trembley of Cabrera's reputation as a headhunter. "In Yankee Stadium, you are winning 6-1. For all intents and purposes, Cabrera is going to try in his own mind -- he doesn't know he is going to come out of the game -- [for] a complete game. He has pitched very well here in Yankee Stadium in his history. I would really beg to differ with anybody who would think he was doing something like that intentional."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.