Cabrera's big day caps clutch comeback
Shortstop's three RBIs, defense propel Padres to victory
SAN DIEGO -- Plenty of potential Fourth of July showstoppers were present Saturday at PETCO Park, ranging from Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez to a pregame crew of patriotic reenactors who marched in colonial garb.
But none could compete with Padres rookie shortstop Everth Cabrera, who took center stage in front of a sellout crowd of 42,069 and delivered the most impressive showing of his young career.
"You hate to put labels on guys, but he has to chance to be someone very special," Padres second baseman David Eckstein said.
Cabrera was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs in the Padres' 7-4 victory over the Dodgers, helping to knot the three-game series -- which concludes Sunday -- at a game apiece. In addition to his offensive contributions, Cabrera put on a dazzling defensive showcase full of acrobatic plays.
Cabrera's greatest moment came with the Padres trailing, 2-1, in the seventh inning. The shortstop inherited a bases-loaded, no-out situation after catcher Eliezer Alfonzo walked, Tony Gwynn singled and Kyle Blanks was hit by a pitch from Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario.
Cabrera then singled to right field to drive in Alfonzo and Gwynn, giving the Padres a 3-2 lead. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez added another run in the inning when he singled on a line drive to center field to score Cabrera.
"[Cabrera] had a really good game, both defensively and offensively," manager Bud Black said. "That's the type of game that I think you can expect out of him as we move forward. He's a very talented young man."
The Padres trailed, 1-0, in the first inning after Ramirez hit a two-out solo home run to left field off Padres starting pitcher Josh Geer, marking Ramirez's first homer since returning Friday from a 50-game suspension.
Geer tossed 6 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on seven hits. He walked none and struck out one in his fourth consecutive quality start.
"The [home run to Ramirez] was a hanging changeup," said Geer, who allowed his second home run to Ramirez this season. "Usually, you try not to hang as many of those pitches. Today, I hung one to Manny, and good hitters will take advantage of that."
With no outs in the second inning and Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake on first base, Cabrera showed his defensive prowess on James Loney's line drive off Geer's glove. Cabrera short-hopped the ball, stepped on second and threw to first to complete the double play.
"He seemed to be everywhere we hit the ball," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
Cabrera delivered another impressive play from short left field in the fourth inning, when he fielded a grounder from Ramirez and made the throw to first for the out. In the sixth inning, Manny scorched a grounder to Cabrera, who fumbled the catch but still recovered to get the forceout at second base and end the inning.
"Some guys, when they bobble a ball, they aren't able to stick with it," Eckstein said. "He was able to stick with it and get on his feet to save the run. Doing stuff like that can change a ballgame."
Padres closer Heath Bell entered the game with one out in the eighth, inheriting two Dodgers on base with San Diego leading, 4-2. Tossing 1 2/3 innings for his 23rd save of the season, Bell allowed one run to score in the eighth and an additional run in the ninth.
But the closer's bat more than made up for those runs. Bell's sacrifice bunt, the first of his career, advanced runners to second and third base in the eighth inning.
"I went out there and I asked [Dodgers catcher Russell] Martin that, 'If I hit a homer to left, do you think I'll get a standing ovation?'" Bell said. "Even though I knew I was bunting."
Bell's bunt set up yet another golden opportunity for Cabrera, who turned in a swinging bunt to third base to score Alfonzo. Gwynn also scored on the play after a throwing error by Blake.
"Showing a swinging bunt like that, it's a bit of a different style," Eckstein said of Cabrera. "He showed his full game and how he can wreak havoc on people."
The Padres extended their lead to 7-3 in the eighth when Eckstein singled to score Cabrera.
The three RBIs on Saturday set a career high for Cabrera, who missed 52 games this season with a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. Cabrera's two hits and two runs also tied his career highs.
Black compares the youngster to a "sponge," one who spends extra time soaking up the knowledge of his peers, such as Eckstein.
"I think the biggest thing about him every day is that he comes to the yard and works hard," Eckstein said. "There is a true innocence of going out there and trying to get better."
That innocence was on display after the game, when Cabrera addressed reporters using a translator.
"I feel very happy to play like that," said the native Nicaraguan. "I'm even happier I can contribute to the team."
Padres catcher Henry Blanco exited in the second inning with a strained right hamstring after he hit a single. Blanco, who said he heard a "pop" when running, will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Padres will need to add a catcher to the roster by Sunday, since catcher Nick Hundley is also on the 15-day DL.
Amy Brittain is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.