Published April 15, 2011
CLEVELAND – The shocking start is now a sudden slump.
The Baltimore Orioles are no longer baseball's biggest surprise.
They dropped their fifth straight game Friday night, losing 8-2 as the Cleveland Indians had one productive inning against Orioles rookie left-hander Zach Britton and dropped Baltimore back to .500 after the club opened the season with four wins in a row.
Despite the slide, during which his team has been outscored 37-12, manager Buck Showalter remains confident the Birds are back.
"We'll be fine," he said. "We're going to be a good offensive team. It's an area of concern when you are losing, but I think we're about ready to start scoring some runs."
Justin Masterson (3-0) held the Orioles to four hits in seven innings and Asdrubal Cabrera had four RBIs for the Indians, who handed Britton (2-1) his first loss and won their fifth in a row at home.
At 9-4, the Indians are off to their best start since 2002 and have flipped the AL Central standings upside down. Travis Hafner homered for Cleveland, which entered the series tied for first with Kansas City. Last season, the Indians finished fourth in the division, two games ahead of the last-place Royals.
Cabrera's two-run single highlighted Cleveland's four-run third inning off Britton, who gave up five runs and eight hits in six innings of his third major league start.
Britton won his first two starts, allowing just one run in his first 13 2-3 innings to beat Tampa Bay and Texas. Showalter said the 23-year-old displayed something special in spring training before even throwing a pitch.
"You could see it in his eyes," Showalter said before the game. "He's not too cool for school, but his first thoughts are always 'What have I got to do to stay here?' He's grounded and puts the team first."
Britton was fine for two innings.
The third one got away from the lefty as the Indians opened a 4-0 lead with six consecutive hits and a sacrifice fly.
"I tried to slow things down in that inning and keep making pitches," Britton said. "It was a little disappointing there. The pitches were down, but getting too much of the plate. We're going through a tough stretch and I wanted to give us a good outing. I had a good opportunity to get us back on track, so that makes this more disappointing."
After struggling for most of 2010, Masterson began to show signs of becoming a dependable starter in the final two months. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has carried that over into this season with three solid starts and wins over Chicago, Seattle and now Baltimore.
Masterson, who got 12 of his 21 outs on grounders, credits slight changes with his mechanics too making him a different pitcher this season. Also an emphasis on throwing his first pitch over the plate. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 26 hitters.
"Throwing that first pitch in there allows you to expand the zone a little, which is great with the stuff that I have," he said. "It's been very simple, subtle stuff but I've done it enough to just go out and pitch and gain confidence with what I have."
The Indians were hoping to build on a 4-2 trip to Seattle and Los Angeles, and they're off to a good start by winning their fifth straight at home.
Cabrera added another two-run single in the seventh, when Cleveland blew it open against Baltimore's bullpen.
Matt LaPorta stretched what looked like a double off the left-field wall into a leadoff triple. Lou Marson, starting in place of slumping catcher Carlos Santana, followed with an RBI single and two more singles loaded the bases before Cabrera grounded a two-run single to center.
Hafner's sacrifice fly made it 4-0, and Britton only avoided more damage when the Orioles successfully appealed that Cabrera left second too early.
He wasn't as fortunate in the sixth, when Hafner connected for his third homer.
"One pitch did us in, the home run to Hafner," Britton said. "That took the wind out of our sails."
The Orioles need to get it back.
NOTES: Orioles 1B Derek Lee has reached safely in 10 of 11 games. ... Indians RHP Joe Smith (abdominal strain) was activated and made his season debut in the ninth, giving up one run. ... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Britton is first Orioles pitcher to allow just one earned run in his first two starts since Tom Phoebus, who did it in 1954 when the franchise was still in St. Louis. ... Players on both teams wore No. 42 in tribute to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947. "It's the least we can do for him," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He's responsible for a lot of people being in this game."