Cabrera stared at Sheffield as he trotted around the bases, but that was about as much of an answer as he could give. Three weeks after Cabrera kept the Tigers to two runs and no walks in 7 2/3 innings at Camden Yards, the Tigers patiently waited for him to find trouble.
Much like the Tigers waited out Johan Santana on Sunday afternoon, they watched Cabrera give up more walks (six) than hits (four), and as many runs as innings pitched. With their approach, they erased an early deficit for Jeremy Bonderman for the second straight start. This time, however, Bonderman finally got a win out of it.
"It's nice to get a win," Bonderman said. "It's been a weird month for me."
Bonderman (1-0) had tied a modern Tigers record with no decisions through his first five starts of the season. Another one would've made him just the fourth Major League pitcher since 1957 with no decisions through six consecutive starts to open the year.
With two runs on four hits in the opening inning, including three singles in a row before the second out, Bonderman looked like he was on track for a loss. However, a Miguel Tejada error -- and three walks -- loaded the bases and scored a run before Cabrera retired a batter. Magglio Ordonez's bases-loaded pass and Carlos Guillen's run-scoring groundout tied the game.
That set the theme of the night, one team answering another. Soon, they were trading trash-talk instead of runs.
Bonderman -- battling a blister on his index finger -- used 38 pitches in the first inning, but just seven in the second. He retired nine out of 10 batters into the fourth, including Tejada on an inside fastball that sawed off his bat at the handle. Sheffield was hit in the back in the bottom of the inning with one out before he stole second and scored on an Ordonez single to put the Tigers ahead.
After a Corey Patterson single tied it again in the fourth, tempers flared once Tejada came back up in the fifth. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Bonderman threw low and inside on the first pitch, forcing Tejada to jump out of the way. Tejada shouted at Bonderman and pointed his bat to the mound, and Bonderman charged towards home plate.
"I'm not trying to start anything with anybody," Bonderman said. "I'm just trying to get him out. You've got to pitch him in to get him out. He's one of the best hitters in the game. I'm trying to keep him off the bases, and one of my strengths is to pitch him in. It's not that big of a deal. It's not anything where I wanted to have something happen like that."
Umpires and teammates separated the pair, but Sheffield and Cabrera were jawing in the meantime, eventually needing to be separated themselves.
"I wasn't going out there to initiate anything," Sheffield said. "I was just letting [manager Jim Leyland] handle the situation. You just back your manager. And when Cabrera started chirping at him, that's when I said something. It's like, 'Wait a minute, you hit me, and I went to first base, and didn't say anything.' I just felt like skip deserved a little more respect than that. You can't hit a guy, and not expect something to happen."
Nobody was ejected, and Bonderman ended up walking Tejada before retiring the side. Cabrera (1-3) stayed in to pitch the bottom of the inning, and Sheffield was due up second.
"I have the utmost respect for Sheffield," O's manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I've been watching him for years, and he's just a pro. If I had to pick somebody, he wouldn't be my guy [to make angry]."
Sheffield cautioned, however, that he wasn't angry enough to lose sight of the situation.
"You always have to think about the game first," he said. "In that situation, it was a tie score. [Placido] Polanco got a hit. I was just making sure that I got a pitch that was up in the zone where I didn't hit into a double play, because I knew that was the intent."
Sheffield quickly moved ahead on a 2-0 count before pulling a sharp line drive foul into the left-field seats. He straightened out his swing for Cabrera's next pitch and launched it into the seats behind the bullpen in left.
It was a high drive into the rain, and Sheffield watched it soar before taking his trip around the bases.
"I didn't see the ball," said Ordonez, who was on deck. "I saw him just walking."
The Tigers added on from there with three in the seventh, but Sheffield's homer was all they needed for a final answer.
"He's a great hitter," Bonderman said, "and he responds to big situations. That's why he has almost 500 homers. We're relying on him. He's one of our big guys."