A curveball sent Gerald Laird back to the Texas Rangers dugout in the first inning last night, making him Erik Bedard's first strikeout victim and causing him to turn back toward the field a few times before reaching the bench. The list figured to be pretty long, given the matchups throughout the visiting lineup. It had to start somewhere, and Laird was in the wrong place.
The batter's box usually constitutes the wrong place when Bedard is pitching.
Bedard struck out 11 to tie the Orioles' single-season record, and Miguel Tejada hit his 12th home run as part of a three-run first inning that sparked a 6-2 victory over the Rangers before an announced 18,926 at rain-soaked Camden Yards.
Tejada launched a changeup into the home bullpen, his two-run shot moving the Orioles ahead 3-0 after Brian Roberts doubled, stole third and scored on an infield hit by Nick Markakis. Aubrey Huff added his 11th home run in the fifth, providing two more runs for Bedard and increasing the lead to 6-0.
The game also included Kevin Millar's double in the fifth to score Tejada and extend his streak of reaching base to 47 consecutive games, two shy of Ken Singleton's club record.
"I love streaks," Millar said. "It's fun that it's still alive."
On another night, Millar might have garnered most of the attention, but it was reserved almost entirely for Bedard, whose 218 strikeouts equal Mike Mussina's record set in 1997.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the last batter to face Bedard (13-4), swung through a 93 mph fastball to end the seventh, after the Rangers had scored twice to avoid a shutout.
"It feels good," said Bedard, who allowed five hits and no walks. "Just to be in the same category as Mike Mussina. Good career, and still having a good career. It feels fine."
With Jim Hoey warming in the bullpen, fans stood to cheer Bedard before he struck out Saltalamacchia. The ovation grew louder, but Bedard walked slowly to the dugout with his head down, as if oblivious to it. And at 104 pitches, he wasn't coming back out.
"The crowd was great," said Bedard, who struck out Sammy Sosa three times, and Laird and Saltalamacchia twice. "There weren't that many people, and it was still pretty loud. But I didn't know until Ramon [Hernandez] gave me the ball."
Bedard has won nine straight decisions, his last loss coming June 10 against the Colorado Rockies. He was denied a victory in his previous start, against the New York Yankees, when Jamie Walker surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer to Shelley Duncan with two outs in the ninth inning.
"It's a lot of everything," he said. "A couple games I was behind and they scored runs, and I got a no-decision. It's a combination of luck and throwing good here and there and getting through the game."
The Rangers knew what they were getting into last night. Bedard posted the first complete game of his career against them last month, shutting them out on two hits and facing the minimum number of batters because of two double plays.
"You've really got to tip your hat to Erik," Millar said. "He's made a lot of great adjustments throughout his career. This year, he's been as dominant as ever."
Most of the players on the field and in the dugout weren't aware that Bedard had tied the record until the scoreboard flashed No. 218.
"Then I think the fans got into it and the players got into it," manager Dave Trembley said. "But before that, it's focus on the game."
Trembley didn't hesitate to remove Bedard after the seventh and allow Hoey and Danys Baez to finish up.
"I hate to be redundant, but I'm pretty stubborn. I'm pretty set in my ways. When he's done, he's done," Trembley said.
"I thought what he did in the seventh was pretty much maximum effort. I've had conversations with Erik before. I don't like to keep pinning him against the wall. What more does a guy got to do? How much more do we got to extend him? He's taking the ball every time he pitches and he goes late in the game.
"I know there are a lot of people that are hung up on the no-decision thing, but that has nothing to do with the way Bedard has pitched. He was done."
Bedard lost his shutout bid with two outs when Botts doubled to left-center field, past a diving Tike Redman, to score Marlon Byrd. Nelson Cruz also doubled, bringing pitching coach Leo Mazzone to the mound. Those were the only hits among the five off Bedard that left the infield.
"I was ahead in the count and should have thrown a ball, I guess. But they hit some good pitches and they got two runs," he said.
The Rangers were having enough problems with their own pitcher. Fourteen of the 25 batters Vicente Padilla faced reached base (two on fielder's choices) through the fifth, when the Orioles built a 6-0 lead. Padilla, in his second start after spending 51 days on the disabled list with a triceps injury, didn't come out for the sixth.
The way Bedard was throwing, why bother?
"It's only strikeouts," Bedard said, "so it doesn't really matter."