A curveball dropped into catcher Ramon Hernandez's glove last night, and Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard started to walk off the mound before plate umpire Adrian Johnson could signal a called third strike. Bedard already knew the sixth inning was over for the Chicago White Sox.
His dominance was just as obvious - and a tad repetitive.
Bedard extended his scoreless-innings streak to 16, blanking the White Sox through the seventh, and Nick Markakis and Corey Patterson homered to provide all the scoring in the Orioles' 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 28,162 at Camden Yards.
Chris Ray walked two batters in the ninth before registering his 15th save as the Orioles (39-50) avoided falling a season-worst 13 games below .500.
"It's a game you don't want to let get away - as well as Bedard pitched and as well as we played in the field," interim manager Dave Trembley said. "You want to do whatever you can to win the game."
Markakis hadn't homered since June 8 against the Colorado Rockies, the last time the Orioles were at .500. He jumped on left-hander Mark Buehrle's first pitch of the fourth inning and broke a scoreless tie.
Patterson increased the lead to 2-0 in the fifth. Two of his three home runs this season have come against the White Sox - both within a week.
"A home run, a base hit, whatever is going to help the team out," he said. "It was a good game tonight. We had two great pitchers going at it."
Bedard (8-4) didn't figure to duplicate his last start, or come close to it. Last Saturday, he faced the minimum number of batters and struck out 15 while throwing the first complete game of his career in a 3-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Last night's performance didn't quite match up, but Bedard dazzled again, holding the White Sox to three hits and striking out seven, including three in his final inning.
Over his past two starts, he has allowed five hits, walked two and struck out 22 in 16 innings.
"I just go out there and pitch," Bedard said, "and whatever happens, happens."
Tadahito Iguchi singled with one out in the first inning but was erased on a double play. Jermaine Dye walked with one out in the second, but Bedard got another double play. A pattern was developing.
In his previous start against Chicago on July 2, Bedard allowed a career-high three home runs and left in the sixth with the Orioles trailing 6-2. They rallied in the last two innings for a 7-6 victory.
Last night would be different. Forget clearing the fences. The White Sox were challenged enough to get the ball out of the infield.
Bedard recorded two fly-ball outs in the game as the White Sox kept pounding his curveball into the infield grass.
"When he gets strike one, you see what he does with both sides of the plate," Trembley said. "He gets both sides of the plate. He pitches in and out. He's got command."
Without a double play, Bedard finally had gone one batter over the minimum.
The White Sox pieced together a rally in the seventh, which began with Bedard's pitch count at 72. Jim Thome walked with one out and Konerko doubled again, putting two runners in scoring position and causing the bullpen to stir.
Through it all, Bedard remained calm. Dye and Fields struck out looking, the last pitch a 93-mph fastball with the count full, and the crowd erupted. Bedard made his usual slow walk from the mound as if he had just thrown a round of batting practice.
"Getting first-pitch strikes helps a lot," Bedard said. "You keep them off-balance and try not to throw any pitches down the middle."
The Orioles scored five runs in the ninth inning of Thursday's game, but the offense retreated again last night. They typically struggle against Buehrle, who was 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 10 career appearances against them.
Markakis walked in the first inning, deposited a curveball onto the flag court in right field in the fourth and singled in the sixth. Patterson had the only other hit off Buehrle through four innings.
"He's a great pitcher," Bedard said. "He works quick and he throws a lot of strikes. You've got to try to get to him early or get lucky and hit a home run."
That sort of greatness seems to have found Bedard, who has posted a 2.19 ERA in 14 starts since the beginning of May and has won his past four decisions.
"It was a short, well-paced game," Patterson said, "and it's real easy to play defense behind Erik."
Especially when the ball stays in the outfield. Or in his catcher's mitt.