The Buffalo Bisons desperately needed a save Saturday afternoon from closer Fernando Cabrera. He badly needed one for his own confidence as well after a string of tough outings.
Both player and team got their wish. Cabrera pitched the final two innings and got out of a major jam in the bottom of the ninth as the Herd held off the homestanding Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, 8-7, before 4,681 in Coca-Cola Field.
The Bisons broke to a 6-0 lead through three innings, collapsed into a 7-6 hole through seven and then took the lead with a two-run eighth. Manager Wally Backman turned the game over to Cabrera and the right-hander improved to 10 for 10 in save chances with his first two-inning save since Sept. 2, 2010 for Pawtucket.
"If I'm gonna get beat, I want to get beat with him," Backman said. "That's his job to come in for those situations and a closer has to be able to pitch two innings from time to time."
Cabrera, a standout in the Buffalo bullpen from 2004-06 during the Cleveland days, has been a huge asset again this year. Saturday's performance pushed him into second place in the International League in saves, one behind Scranton's Kevin Whalen, and ended a rough run. Cabera, 30, had a 0.63 earned-run average over his first 13 outings but had given up eight runs in his last six times out, an ERA of 12.00.
Although blowing no saves in that stretch, Cabrera failed to keep his team close a couple times and gave up a two-run walk-off home run to Stefan Gartrell in the 10th inning May 10 at Gwinnett.
"I just wanted to keep looking to bounce back and be in the situation to help the team," Cabrera said. "I want to build my confidence back to get the rhythm of the beginning of the season. I want to keep focused, keep strong and pumped. Don't look weak with my body language because that's something other teams can tell."
No problem in that area Saturday. Cabrera went 1-2-3 in the eighth but found trouble in the bottom of the ninth when Matt Antonelli led off with a single and Steve Pearce walked on a full-count pitch. That brought up designated hitter Jack Cust, who won Friday's game with a walk-off homer in the 10th and had homered in both the fifth and seventh innings Saturday. The second homer, an opposite-field bolt to left, had forged a 6-6 tie.
Cust, whom Backman said he would have walked even as the winning run if first base was open, got the count to 2-2 before Cabrera struck him out on a sharp slider.
"He's in a hot series and I know he can hit," Cabrera said. "But [Saturday] I feel good. My arm was loose and I just wanted to make a good pitch and maybe get a double play."
That didn't happen but Cabrera got Cust and then induced Ronnier Mustelier to pop up foul to first. Brandon Laird was Scranton's last hope and Cabrera got him on a 2-2 pitch as well with an 81-mph slider, slapping his glove in celebration.
"I was aggressive with that pitch," Cabrera said. "A lot of times the last couple outings I get two outs and I feel I'm going to get out of it. With him, I didn't want to make the same mistake I did like in Gwinnett, a hanging slider when I was ahead of the guy."
Cabrera burst on the Buffalo scene as a 22-year-old to make 44 appearances for the 2004 IL champion Bisons and really blew up in 2005 with a 6-1 record and 1.23 ERA in 30 games. But his big-league career with Cleveland, and then Baltimore and Boston has not taken off.
Cabrera has a 2.73 ERA in 262 career games in Triple-A and posted back-to-back 22-save seasons for Pawtucket in 2009 and 2010. His ERA in the big leagues is 5.24 and he's never gotten a chance to close, recording his lone save for Baltimore in 2007.
Still, he maintains an upbeat personality and has proven to be an excellent free-agent signee for the New York Mets after spending last year in Sacramento in the Oakland chain.
"When I was younger in '05 I had a great season here and when you have a good season, things go easy," he said. "In '04, I had a tough time at the beginning. I was learning how this game is in Triple-A. I don't have the same stuff I used to but now I feel I'm a way better pitcher. You learn from your own experience. This game is never going to be easy but you get older and you learn."