ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The visiting bullpen at Tropicana Field is only about 200 feet away from the pitcher's mound, so if Erik Bedard didn't see Rob Bell warming up, he almost certainly heard the sounds of Bell's pitches popping the catcher's mitt.
It was only the fourth inning yesterday, but Bedard had scuffled enough early that Orioles manager Dave Trembley wasn't about to take any chances, even if that meant taking his best starter and a burgeoning American League Cy Young Award candidate out of the game before he was eligible to earn a victory.
But with Tampa Bay Devil Rays on second and third with one out, Bedard struck out Josh Paul. Then, he struck out Akinori Iwamura. Bell sat back down in the bullpen as Bedard resumed the position he has been in for about two months now - in control of the opposition. Bedard had plenty of help yesterday as the Orioles' offense pounded Devil Rays pitching in an 11-3 victory in front of an announced 19,845.
The Orioles (52-58) tied a season high with 16 hits, including three home runs, and scored double-digit runs for the third time this season (all against the Devil Rays), and Bedard winning his eighth straight decision, a career high, was a formality by the middle innings.
It didn't look like that would be the case when Bedard gave up a bases-empty home run to Carl Crawford in the first and a two-run shot to B.J. Upton in the third to put the visitors in a 3-1 hole. But the Orioles scored the final 10 runs of the game, including a season-high six in the fourth inning, and beat the Devil Rays for the 10th time in 12 games. They won the series and finished the road trip with a 3-3 mark.
"To put 10 runs on the board makes it a little easier to pitch," said Bedard, who improved to 12-4. "You got a big gap between three and 10. You just got to keep battling and make sure to throw strikes."
It is a testament to how dominant Bedard has been during the past two months that several questions were asked after the game about Bedard's early struggles. He allowed nine hits in 6 2/3 innings, the most he has given up since June 10, which was also the last time he lost. But he also struck out 11 and didn't walk anybody.
It was the third time in six games he has had double-digit strikeouts and the sixth time this season. He has 10 career double-digit strikeout games, tying him for third on the club's all-time list with Mount St. Joseph alumnus Tom Phoebus.
"I thought he got better as the game went on," Trembley said. "I think he did see Bell get up. We were playing this game to win. I thought his breaking ball got better. The guy has a way of coming up with a big pitch. You know what he's all about. He just keeps coming at you and giving it all he's got."
Asked whether he was motivated by the bullpen being up so early, Bedard said: "Motivated? I don't know. I just kept battling. I tried to get a couple of more innings. I just threw strikes and got a couple of more innings out of it."
While Trembley was effusive in his praise of Bedard, who is 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA against the Devil Rays, he said it was shortstop Miguel Tejada who got the Orioles going. Down 3-1, Tejada led off the fourth with a home run against Devil Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine.
After Tejada's ninth homer of the season, seven of the next eight Orioles reached base in the six-run inning, which included an RBI fielder's choice by Paul Bako, an RBI single by Brian Roberts, an RBI double by Corey Patterson and a two-run single by Nick Markakis, who ended Sonnanstine's day. It was the third time this season the Orioles have sent 10 batters to the plate in an inning.
"There's no question in my mind that Tejada is the guy that got the day started for us," Trembley said. "I looked at him as the guy that was going to give us energy and get us started a little bit, and he did that. That's called leadership. Tejada certainly has those qualities about him."
The Orioles then tacked on three more runs in the fifth against Casey Fossum to secure a 10-3 lead. Aubrey Huff continued to punish his former team with a bases-empty home run in the inning, which also included a two-run single from Patterson, who had a game-high three RBIs.
When third baseman Melvin Mora, who was activated from the disabled list before the game, crushed Al Reyes' pitch deep into the left-field seats in the ninth, every Orioles starter had at least one hit. The only starter who didn't have an RBI was designated hitter Jay Gibbons, but he went 4-for-5 with a run.
"Erik started off a little shaky, but we were able to pick it up for him, get him a good lead and he settled down," Gibbons said.
Trembley was especially pleased with the outcome. He was annoyed by the way his team played in a 9-2 loss a night earlier, and when the Orioles fell behind early yesterday with their best pitcher on the mound, it didn't make him feel much better.
"[Saturday's] game wasn't acceptable," Trembley said. "The way we came out and played today was more the style that we're trying to get across to our guys here. We told them at the beginning of the road trip that we play for respect and we play with pride. The guys really did that today."