Orioles 5, Braves 0
Before Friday's game, Melvin Mora paced near his locker and wondered out loud if he felt healthy enough to play.
He made a show of pointing to the places on his body that hurt: the strained left foot that kept him on the bench for the last six games, the right hamstring that's bothered him since Opening Day and a nagging ache behind his right knee.
Two hours later, in his first at-bat in a week, he smacked a 389-foot home run.
The blast gave the Orioles all the offense they would need in a 5-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, thanks in large part to brilliant pitching from Daniel Cabrera. The 23-year-old rookie gave up four hits in a complete-game shutout and continued to emerge as the Orioles' unlikely ace.
"Daniel was fantastic," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He had everything tonight, both his speed and location. [Mora] started us out with the big hit, and Daniel made it stand up."
Mazzilli almost decided to keep Mora on the bench for the seventh consecutive game. With heavy rain falling two hours before the scheduled start, Mazzilli mused that he might not want to bring his all-star back on a wet, sloppy field.
And while Mora's home run reaffirmed Mazzilli's final decision, his health might not. After his home run, Mora limped around the bases and crossed home plate with a grimace instead of a smile. He left the game before the fifth inning with continued soreness in his left foot, and his status remains day-to-day.
"I'm so frustrated," Mora said. "I was scared about my foot, but you always want to play. And then after the home run, I wanted to play more. That felt so good, hitting it like that after not playing. I want to be out there. I'd even play hurt."
The Orioles wouldn't need him to if Cabrera (4-3) pitches every outing as he did Friday.
Beginning a habit of steadying the Baltimore pitching staff, Cabrera on Sunday gave up one run in five-plus innings in a 4-2 win over Colorado. He's given up three earned runs or fewer in seven of nine starts.
He's an unlikely ace, having never pitched above Class A coming into this season, but he looked comfortable in that role Friday. He stumped the Braves early and often, striking out four batters in the first two innings and retiring six in a row into the third inning.
When he landed in trouble, the defense bailed him out. Baltimore balanced its poor fielding Thursday night -- three errors in a 5-2 loss to the Yankees -- by making several excellent plays Friday. Second baseman Brian Roberts and shortstop Miguel Tejada combined for two jaw-dropping double plays in the fourth and seventh innings, ending major threats.
For the most part, though, Cabrera required little assistance. Even on his third time through the Braves lineup, he dominated. No Braves runner reached second base after the fifth inning, and Cabrera faced just three batters in the fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth innings. "He was on fire," said Atlanta's Andruw Jones. "We just couldn't get to him."
After each inning, Cabrera walked off the mound pumping his fists. Then, he sat down in the dugout and watched the Orioles pour on insurance runs -- one in the fifth, two in the seventh and another in the eighth. Larry Bigbie led the steady scoring with three doubles, and Tejada drove in two runs.
"They helped me so much," Cabrera said. "Everything was good for me tonight. They gave me so many runs, and I just cheered for them."
In the end, though, Cabrera earned the night's loudest applause. All 33,579 on hand stood to watch Cabrera force Chipper Jones into a game-ending popup before dropping to the mound in disbelief.
"Everything felt so good," Cabrera said. "I just felt so happy, like out of control."
Orioles Notes: Sidney Ponson declined to speak to the media after Thursday's 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees, but he took time to vent Friday. Ponson gave up just two earned runs in seven innings against the Yankees, dropping his record to 3-10.
"That record is embarrassing," Ponson said. "They brought me in here to win, and right now I'm not winning. Its just so frustrating. I know I'm better than this, but the numbers don't reflect it." . . .
Forget Cabrera's pitching or Mora's home run. Only one highlight will endure from Friday's game, and it was pretty meaningless. In the sixth inning, Braves pitcher Paul Byrd fielded a grounder that stuck in his glove. Unable to get the ball out, he tossed the whole glove to first base for a forceout.