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Cabrera once thrived with Red Sox

Cabrera once thrived with Red Sox

BOSTON -- Once a teammate, always a teammate. That's how Orlando Cabrera, Los Angeles' effervescent shortstop, sees it.

"It was yesterday, the Colorado game," said Cabrera from Fenway Park on Tuesday, on the eve of the Angels' American League Division Series Game 1 against Boston. "Jamey Carroll. I was with my wife. I was pumped, you know, because I went crazy for him."

Carroll, the diminutive Colorado infielder, launched a game-winning sacrifice fly, propelling the Rockies into the postseason as Cabrera watched on TV.

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"And [my wife's] like, 'You want Colorado to win?'" said Cabrera, eyes opening wide. "I said, 'No, I played with him. I want him to do good. The guy's from Montreal.'"

This week, Angels fans will hope that Cabrera's empathy toward ex-teammates begins and ends with the Expos, with whom he spent the first 7 1/2 seasons of his career, and doesn't extend to the Red Sox. For three electric months in 2004, Cabrera wasn't just along for a historic World Series ride in Boston; he was beloved like a native son, credited with reversing the team's fortunes at the trade deadline and guaranteed a lifetime of beverages, pro bono, in establishments across New England.

"As a baseball player and a guy who loves baseball passionately," Cabrera said, "who doesn't like coming to a series where they have seen baseball for over 100 years? Of course I love to come here and play."

But something happened in the afterglow of the Red Sox's World Series run. Cabrera had hardly hopped off the team's parading Duck Boats before he was suddenly wanting for teammates of any stripe. The Sox never offered him a contract after the 2004 playoffs, Cabrera said. He doesn't understand why.

Soon enough, the 5-foot-9 defensive whiz was back on his feet, signing a four-year, $32 million contract to go West. Another Colombian shortstop, Edgar Renteria, now with Atlanta, replaced him in Boston.

"[There were] some teams on my list," Cabrera said. "Angels was one of them. So I was really happy that I was coming to a place where I wanted to play."

Boston's loss was the Halos' gain. For three years in Anaheim, Cabrera improved steadily, soon becoming a cornerstone of one of the league's most aggressive offensive attacks. In 2007, at the age of 32, he improved his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) -- and stole 20 or more bases -- for the third straight season. He scored 100 runs for the first time in his career and racked up 86 RBIs.

And in a season that continually tested manager Mike Scioscia's talent for reviving a depleted offense with new players and revitalized old stars, it was Cabrera who remained in the lineup for 155 games. Only one other Angel, Vladimir Guerrero, played more than 140 games during the team's third run to the postseason in the last four years.

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"We talked about our youngsters coming up and filling in; that really kept us afloat," Scioscia said. "But the one constant was Orlando."

Cabrera contributed in ways that can't be measured by statistics, as his teammates won't hesitate to point out.

"It doesn't matter whether it's moving the batter or not swinging, getting the guy over, hitting to the right side, or bunting," said second baseman Howie Kendrick. "It seems like every time he comes up, you feel like he's going to do his job.

"And defensively, he's made some unbelievable plays this year. And he makes all the routine plays. I think that's what you want in a shortstop. As far as I'm concerned, he's a Gold Glove shortstop."

As for Cabrera's other tendencies -- to embrace and be embraced by teammates, to remember the good graces of strangers and repay them with appreciation -- Angels fans can put their suspicions to rest.

"It really doesn't matter right now," Cabrera said. "I always feel really happy, and it means a lot to me when [Boston fans] cheer for me, when I come up to hit in that first at-bat. But a playoff is a playoff."

Meanwhile, his friends in Boston have another focus: keeping Cabrera out of the picture entirely.

"I hope there's no impact," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's a good player, and we've certainly seen his ability to play the game under these situations and be comfortable. He's a very good baseball player. I hope we're not giving him a whole lot of situations where he's out on second, waving his helmet to the crowd."

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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