Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler cost Brad Bergesen the last two months of his rookie season and a possible run at the American League Rookie of the Year award when he nailed the Orioles starter in the left leg with a line drive.
Exactly a year and one day since the injury, which took the young pitcher months to recover from, Butler cost Bergesen a long-awaited victory that he deserved.
A night after closer Alfredo Simon blew a save and allowed a three-run, game-ending homer, David Hernandez coughed up a one-run lead in the eighth inning when Butler turned around his fastball. Butler's two-run homer sent the Royals to a 4-3 victory Saturday night before 25,055 at Kauffman Stadium, and marred one of Bergesen's best starts of the season.
Bergesen allowed two earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out four over seven innings, and was in line for his first victory since May 12 until the bullpen imploded for the second straight night. The Orioles lost for the 13th time in 16 games since the All-Star break, and are now 40 games under the .500 mark at 32-72.
Zach Greinke, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, hung around long enough to get the win, allowing three runs, seven hits and three walks over eight innings. Nick Markakis hit a two-run double and Adam Jones drove in a run, but the Orioles hit into four double plays, failing to take advantage of several scoring opportunities.
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Saturday that the plan is to keep the rotation intact at least through one more turn so that new manager Buck Showalter, who takes over Tuesday, can make a fair evaluation. That's obviously good news for the Orioles' trio of young starters -- Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz.
It was Bergesen that was thought to be in the most jeopardy of getting jettisoned to the minors. Entering Saturday night, he had lost five straight starts and seven straight decisions with his last win coming May 12. In his first three outings after the All-Star break, Bergesen had allowed 17 earned runs, 28 hits and six walks over 16 1/3 innings.
Dating even further back, Bergesen had surrendered four runs or more in eight of his last nine starts, leaving him with a 6.95 ERA heading into Saturday night.
His recent struggles prompted interim manager Juan Samuel to give him a pep talk on the last homestand. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz also spent a long bullpen session with Bergesen, trying to help the second-year pitcher rediscover his sinker.
"I asked him at one point if you feel that every time you go out there, if you don't pitch well, you're going to get sent out," Samuel said. "He said that's not the case. Hopefully, he didn't just tell me what I want to hear. ... You don't want him to be thinking like that. You want these guys to take care of the task at hand and not to be worried about things that they can't control. Just make your pitches and everything will be fine."
Bergesen learned that in the early innings Saturday night. He got through a perfect inning on 15 pitches and needed only 10 to turn a scoreless second, working around first baseman Ty Wigginton's error on Alex Gordon's ground ball.
The Royals got on the board in the third when Mitch Maier ripped Bergesen's 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall for his fourth home run. After the solo homer, Bergesen retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced before Chris Getz lined a one-out double down the left-field line in the bottom out of the sixth. However, Bergesen stranded him by striking out Jason Kendall and retiring Butler on a groundout, a key sequence after the Orioles had just given him a two-run lead.
Before the sixth, the Orioles had one really good chance to dent Greinke, who was coming off an outing in which he allowed eight runs and eight hits in four innings against the Minnesota Twins. In the second, the Orioles' first two batters -- Adam Jones and Felix Pie -- hit singles and then Greinke fell behind Matt Wieters, 3-0. He then got Wieters to line out to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who flipped Getz at second base to double off Jones. Greinke then picked off Pie at first base, ending the Orioles threat.
Greinke then didn't allow another hit until No. 9 hitter Julio Lugo led off the sixth with an infield single. Brian Roberts followed with a single and Lugo just slid in safely to third, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Markakis then drove a ball into the left center-field gap to score two runs. It was his 34th double on the season.
Greinke then retired the next two batters before Jones dumped a single into right field to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
Kansas City made it a one-run game in the seventh, though Bergesen did well to keep the Orioles out in front. Gordon, who hit a game-ending, three-run homer Friday night, started the rally with a single and then Mike Aviles singled to right on a perfectly executed hit-and-run. Maier's RBI single made it a 3-2 game before Bergesen retired Willie Bloomquist and Betancourt to get out of the jam.