BALTIMORE — As he came out to pitch the ninth inning, Baltimore Orioles rookie Daniel Cabrera made sure to adhere to his superstitious practice of carefully stepping over the first-base line.
Three outs later, the right-hander celebrated his first major league shutout by dropping his 6-foot-7 frame into a crouch. He then pointed toward the heavens and smiled broadly as left fielder Larry Bigbie flipped him the game ball.
“I felt happy, out of control,” Cabrera said last night, moments after throwing a four-hitter in Baltimore’s 5-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Melvin Mora homered in his abbreviated return to the Baltimore lineup, and Bigbie hit three doubles and scored twice, helping the Orioles to only their third win in 12 games.
J.D. Drew and Julio Franco had two hits apiece for the Braves, who have lost seven of nine.
Cabrera (4-3) struck out six and walked two, throwing 102 pitches for his first complete game in his ninth big league start. He allowed more than one baserunner in only one inning, permitted only one runner to second base and was aided by two sparkling double plays.
The first came in the fourth, when second baseman Brian Roberts made a diving stab of a grounder by Andruw Jones before getting the ball to shortstop Miguel Tejada.
Tejada started the second one, going quickly to his left on a grounder by Jones before flipping the ball to Roberts, who made a barehanded catch and whipped the relay to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
“I say thank you to the manager for giving me the chance to throw a whole game, and I say thank you to the players for making a lot of good plays,” Cabrera said.
The rookie outdueled Atlanta’s Paul Byrd (1-1), who gave up three runs and six hits in 61/3 innings. Byrd also made a fine fielding play in the sixth inning, throwing his glove — and ball — to first baseman Mike Hessman after a sharp grounder by Javy Lopez got stuck in the webbing.
The play was reminiscent to one made by Minnesota reliever Terry Mulholland, when he was a rookie with the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium in 1986. Mulholland fielded a grounder by Keith Hernandez and ran toward first before tossing his glove to first baseman Bob Brenly, now the Arizona Diamondbacks manager.
“I studied the highlights. I knew what to do when the ball got stuck in your glove,” Byrd said with a grin. “The scary thing is when you go to throw your glove to first, you’re like, ‘If this ball falls out of here when I throw it I’m going to look like an idiot.’”
Returning after a six-game absence with a sprained ligament in his left foot, Mora gave the Orioles the only run they needed with his 12th homer in the first inning.
He circled the bases gingerly, then left in the fifth inning after experiencing pain in the foot.
“He’ll probably be out a couple of days,” manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Tejada hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth after Bigbie doubled, and the Orioles added two runs in the seventh on a two-out RBI bunt single by David Newhan — who replaced Mora — and a run-scoring double by Tejada.
Lopez, who played for 10 years in Atlanta before coming to Baltimore last winter, tripled in the eighth and scored on a single by Jay Gibbons. He went 2-for-4.
“It was fun. I’m glad I got my couple of base hits and we won the game,” Lopez said.
His former teammates are struggling without his bat in the lineup. The Braves are 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position over their last seven defeats.
“There is not a middle of the lineup in baseball that is as bad as we are right now,” Chipper Jones said.