The Orioles were jolted back to reality Wednesday night when a defensive miscue led to two early runs, their pitching couldn't keep the ball in the yard and their offense was handled by Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
The sight of legions of empty seats at Camden Yards added to the home opener hangover.
Alex Avila had three hits and drove in five runs, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez hit back-to-back homers off Josh Rupe in the fifth and Verlander was in control throughout as the Orioles were beaten, 7-3, by the Tigers before an announced 12,451.
“You're just going to have those nights,” said Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds, who had a strong defensive game but took an 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout. “I don't think there has been any team that has gone 162-0. We'll come out tomorrow and be ready to go and try to get out of there with a series win.”
It was a disappointing follow-up all around to the Orioles' 5-1 home-opening victory on Monday that was witnessed by an announced 46,593. A victory would have given the Orioles their first 5-0 start since 1970, but they fell behind by two runs after an error by Brian Roberts prolonged the second inning, and they never truly recovered despite a two-run homer by Derrek Lee and two hits and an RBI from Vladimir Guerrero.
That was in large part to the efforts of Verlander, the perennial American League Cy Young candidate who continued to have his way with the Orioles. He allowed three runs on eight four hits and two walks, and struck out nine in eight innings. He was at his best in the seventh when he struck out Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Reynolds on a total of 11 pitches.
The Tigers right-hander improved to 6-0 with a 2.64 ERA in eight career starts against the Orioles. In 58 career innings against them, he's surrendered just 17 earned runs, 44 hits and 17 walks while striking out 51. In five starts at Camden Yards, Verlander is 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA.
“[It was] the same thing we've been seeing for a while. He's one of the best pitchers in the game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Four-pitch mix and not a whole lot of tendencies in the sequencing. Understands what he's doing out there. Very athletic. Repeats his delivery, holds runners. Like I said before the game, not many dents in his armor. You score three runs off him, you're going to have to pitch pretty well.”
Getting his first start of 2011 with Jeremy Guthrie recovering from a bout with pneumonia, Brad Bergesen allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks over 32/3 innings. That he wasn't sharp was hardly surprising considering that the 25-year-old right-hander hadn't had a prolonged outing against major league hitters since March 20.
Bergesen's start March 25 against the Minnesota Twins was cut short after four pitches when he was drilled in the right forearm by a liner off the bat of Denard Span. Five days later, he threw two innings against Orioles minor leaguers, but Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor didn't feel that he was stretched out enough to start the season in the rotation.
He was a candidate to get the ball Sunday, the first day the Orioles needed a fifth starter. However, those plans changed when Guthrie was hospitalized and unable to pitch.
With Bergesen limited to about 85 pitches coming in, the Orioles could ill afford their starter to consistently work deep counts and their defense to give the Tigers an extra out. However, both happened in the second, which had been shaping up as a rather routine inning for Bergesen.
After getting two quick outs, Bergesen got Brennan Boesch to hit a pop-up to shallow right field. Second baseman Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis converged on the ball. Markakis appeared to have the best play on the ball, though he didn't call off Roberts, who had the ball deflect off his glove.
“I don't think it's a miscommunication. It's a hard play,” Showalter said. “You're going back there and you've got two good defenders and it happens. That's a tough error. It's a tough play, but I think the reason why it looks somewhat unusual is we're so used to those two guys making that play.”
Bergesen walked the next batter, Jhonny Peralta, and then Avila laced a two-run double off the scoreboard in right field to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead and the Orioles their first deficit of 2011.
The Tigers' lead expanded to four runs when Avila slammed a 2-2 fastball into the seats to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead in the fourth. Inge followed Avila's homer with a double, ending Bergesen's evening with his pitch count at 89.
“It was tough. I just never seemed to get into any type of groove tonight,” Bergesen said. “There was only a couple under-four-pitch outs I had. It seemed like I went full count on almost everyone or deep counts today, so that part really hurt.”
The Orioles cut their four-run deficit in half in the bottom of the fourth on one swing by Lee. The veteran first baseman, who had a 12-pitch at-bat in the first inning end with a strikeout, jumped on Verlander's first pitch and sent it onto the flag court for his first homer as an Oriole. It was the Orioles' first hit against Verlander, and one of their only good swings against him on the night.
“It felt good to square up a ball and get it over the fence,” Lee said. “But, it's kind of a moot point when you lose a game.”