When Orioles manager Buck Showalter walked back toward the clubhouse for a bathroom break before the top of the ninth inning, he spotted Brad Bergesen heading the other direction in the tunnel. Not knowing whether his manager had seen him, Bergesen circled back to make sure that he was again in Showalter's view.
The message the pitcher was sending was clear. It was his game, and he wanted to be on the mound when it ended.
Showalter stuck with the second-year pitcher even when the dangerous Shin-Soo Choo came to the plate as the tying run with two outs in the ninth inning. Bergesen retired Choo to finalize a complete-game gem and the Orioles' 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 11,155 at Progressive Field.
"He deserved to have that opportunity there; he worked too hard [not to]," said Showalter, who is 8-1 since taking over as manager. The Orioles (40-74) have won four straight games and clinched their third consecutive series victory for the first time all season.
"He was outstanding. Gosh, he had that look in his eye. He had that late life, threw a lot of four-seamers that he hadn't been doing. Obviously, the two-seamer is a big pitch for him, but he really pitches off the fastball. [He threw] enough changeups and got a big out with Choo. That was nice moment for him, a big confidence builder for him next time he's in that situation."
Choo flew out to center field on Bergesen's 102nd pitch. It was the Orioles' first nine-inning complete game this season and the second of Bergesen's young career. He allowed just two hits, an RBI single to Luis Valbuena in the fifth inning and a two-out single to Asdrubal Cabrera in the ninth that brought Choo to the plate.
"I felt confident that I was going to get one more batter at least, and it was up to me to get that last guy, one way or another," Bergesen said. "Huge relief. That guy is such a good hitter, and to be able to get him out right there in that situation, I just feel great right now."
The victory was Bergesen's first since May 12, a span of 13 starts, and it continued both his and the pitching staff's resurgence over the past 10 days. Bergesen has allowed just four earned runs over his past three starts, spanning 23 innings, after a stretch in which he surrendered four earned runs or more in eight of nine starts. In his past three outings, he has lowered his ERA from 6.95 to 5.84.
He has also begun to distance himself from a brutal start to the year, during which he was demoted to Norfolk two times a season after he was easily the Orioles' best starter.
"He's had some tough goes of it," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "I couldn't be prouder of him. I'm just so happy for him because of what he's gone through and the adversity. It's been tough, being sent down at a time he was throwing OK and not understanding that part of it. To get called back up and sent back down and to be put in the bullpen, that's tough for a young guy to go through. It's nice to see it all come together."
Asked whether he feels as if he is back to where he was before a shin injury prematurely ended his impressive rookie season in July, Bergesen said: "It's getting close. My two-seamer is still a little inconsistent, where I'm having to rely on throwing more four-seamers. But let's put it this way: It's 100 times better than the beginning of this year, so hopefully I can keep getting better."
Bergesen (4-9) allowed just two hits, two walks and one hit batsman in recording the eighth quality start by the rotation over its past nine games. He also worked with very little margin for error as the Orioles managed 13 hits for a second straight night but went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Brian Roberts had three hits, including a solo homer in the fifth inning that came on a classic 12-pitch at-bat against Indians rookie starter Josh Tomlin.
"I felt all along, this is how it should be going," Kranitz said of the rotation's performance. "This is certainly what they're capable of doing. There's no doubt about it. Each guy has picked it up, and it's like handing the baton to the next, challenging each other and getting it done. It's fun to watch, and on top of that, we're getting great defense."
Rookie third baseman Josh Bell made a diving play to retire Shelley Duncan for the first out in the second inning. Left fielder Felix Pie caught Choo's sinking liner and then threw to first to double up Michael Brantley for the final out of the fourth. First baseman Ty Wigginton made a diving play on Jordan's Brown's hard grounder down the line after Bergesen walked the leadoff man in the fifth.
Bergesen eventually lost both his shutout and no-hit bids with two outs in the fifth when he shook off catcher Matt Wieters and watched Valbuena bounce a single into right. But after that, he retired 12 straight batters. Eight of those outs came on ground balls, a great sign for a sinkerball pitcher, and three of them came on strikeouts. He needed just seven pitches to get out the sixth inning, seven to get out of the seventh and eight to pitch a perfect eighth.
"When he's on and he's pitching like the way he did last year, that's how he is," Roberts said. "He works quick, he throws strikes, he gets ground balls. He gets a lot of quick innings, and that's always fun to play behind."
Bergesen's pitch count was at only 82 when the ninth inning began. He struck out pinch hitter Trevor Crowe on a 3-2 pitch. Brantley then grounded out before Cabrera singled to right. Showalter had lefty Michael Gonzalez ready in the bullpen, and he immediately considered summoning him to face the left-handed-hitting Choo. But on this night, it was Bergesen's out to get.
"He made it real tough for anybody to think about taking him out," Showalter said. "If ever a guy deserved to get a W, it was Bergy tonight."