By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
9:20 PM EDT, May 14, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —
Brad Bergesen pumped his fist and grabbed catcher Jake Fox in an embrace after throwing the first complete-game shutout of his big-league career Saturday in the Orioles' 6-0 victory over the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
Really, it couldn't have come at a better time for Bergesen or the Orioles (18-20), who snapped a four-game losing streak to the Rays (23-16) in one of their better all-around performances of the season.
"He was real good, he needed that outing," said Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds, who interrupted a personal 2-for-21 skid with a solo homer in the fifth. "I don't think he was too pleased with his outings before that, but he threw a great game. It was great for the team, too. He saved the bullpen. That was a big one."
Bergesen (1-6) allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out five in his first win of since Sept. 21, 2010. Locating his fastball with more precision and featuring a sharp changeup, Bergesen threw 103 pitches Saturday, including 68 for strikes. It was the first time in nine appearances, dating back to last season, that the Orioles have won when Bergesen pitched.
"He keeps battling through it and he doesn't wallow around in self-pity, and that's a big thing of mine," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Nobody really cares. We do, but the opposition doesn't."
The Rays, specifically, haven't been particularly comforting to Bergesen over the years. He was 0-5 with a 9.13 ERA in five previous starts against them, including last Sunday when he got knocked around for five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.
"I think my last four or five starts, maybe even more than that, they have really had my number," Bergesen said. "So to be able to come here, their place, especially after the last outing, to be able to do that, it's a good feeling."
Although Showalter has not said it publicly, Bergesen and Chris Tillman, in particular, need to pitch well as May progresses. By the end of this month, both Brian Matusz and Alfredo Simon could be back in the majors, meaning one or possibly two starters will have to be removed from the rotation. Bergesen, who already has been pushed to the bullpen once this season and hadn't pitched more than six innings all year, could be an odd man out.
"Every start I feel that way, whether it is the situation now or last year, you are always feeling like you are going out there and you are having to pitch to keep your job," Bergesen said. "With (Matusz and Simon) coming back, those are things I can't control. All I can do is go out there and work as hard as I can and go from there."
Showalter said he doesn't believe that Bergesen, or any of his starters, are pitching with the fear of losing their jobs.
"Unless they are just kind of whistling in the graveyard, I don't see our young guys that way," Showalter said. "They are getting opportunities and they know we like them and it's about accountability and production. We are not running a tryout camp and they know there's got to be some return for the confidence you show in them. But I haven't seen that (worry) in Brad."
Fox, who caught Bergesen for the first time this season, said he made a point of telling Bergesen to relax before the game started.
"I think Brad showed what he's capable of tonight," Fox said. "We had a talk before we came into the game today and it's no secret that he hasn't been pitching as well as he wants to this season. I just said, 'Let's go out and have fun, let's go out and compete, let's just go out and play the game for what it is.' And you saw that today."
While Bergesen cruised Saturday, a couple other struggling Orioles made big contributions. Reynolds, who is batting .180 on the season, hit a 395-foot solo homer in the fifth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead and Fox, who entered the night hitting .156, added a two-run shot in the sixth.
Fox's homer, just his second of the year and first since April 16, came on the 10th pitch of his at-bat against starter Wade Davis (4-3).
"It's awesome. I think what you're finally seeing is everybody getting settled in their roles," Fox said. "For me, I'm a once or twice a week kind of guy and I've never really had that job before, so it took me a while to find a rhythm and hopefully I found some things that work."
Reynolds also provided the lightest moment of the afternoon when he hit a 150-foot foul pop that defied gravity it went up but never came back down. Rays' third baseman Evan Longoria was tracking it and then ducked and scurried away, for fear that he had lost it as it headed to the earth. But it never did. The ball stuck in the dome's B-ring, was ruled a foul and play continued.
"I didn't know if it was coming down," Reynolds said. "I don't really know the rule. I thought it was a homer."
Davis, who allowed three runs in five innings in a victory over the Orioles on Sunday, couldn't keep his pitches down Saturday and was tagged for seven hits, three walks and four runs in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander had allowed just two homers in 46 2/3 previous innings against the Orioles; he gave up two homers in a two-inning span on Saturday.
Because of Bergesen's performance, however, it was the RBI double that Davis allowed to Vladimir Guerrero in the first that proved to be the difference.
Showalter wasn't sure whether that was the best he had seen Bergesen pitch, but said, "considering the circumstances and a team on top of their game like Tampa is, a lot of things pointed to it being a challenge today. And it was really impressive."
The afternoon didn't start smoothly for Bergesen, but he got key outs when he needed them. The biggest may have been in the first, when he allowed a one-out double and then a single before inducing Evan Longoria into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
"It was huge. It happened in the first inning but that was probably the biggest most crucial play in the entire game," Bergesen said. "We go out and we score the run and my job is I got to go out there and put up a zero and stop them right there just to keep the momentum in our favor."
He allowed a one-out double in the second, but retired the next two batters. In the third, he gave up a one-out single to Sam Fuld, who stole second and third. Fuld's steal of second was aided by Fox's double-clutch throw. He should have been out at third, but Reynolds dropped the ball on the tag.
Bergesen wiggled out of that jam, too, by getting Johnny Damon to ground out. He didn't allow a hit for the remainder of the game, retiring 19 of his final 22 batters.
It was the Orioles' first complete-game shutout since Chris Waters had one on Sept. 18, 2008 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Coupled with Jeremy Guthrie's eight-inning performance Friday, it was the Orioles first back-to-back complete games since Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez in 2003.
"It's a great feeling," Bergesen said. "I am sure the ball will be on the way to mom's house here pretty soon."
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