The Orioles have made it very clear how happy they are to have a healthy Brian Roberts back at the top of their lineup. But while Roberts played a big part in another Orioles victory Wednesday, the story of the night was Brad Bergesen's continued return to the form he showed last season.
The right-hander put forth the best performance by an Orioles starter all season, allowing just one run and two hits in a complete-game, 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 11,155 at Progressive Field.
Bergesen lost both his no-hit and shutout bids with two outs in the fifth inning on Luis Valbuena's RBI single. He responded by retiring 12 straight batters before Asdrubal Cabrera's two-out single in the ninth inning. Bergesen then got the dangerous Shin-Soo Choo to fly out on his 102nd pitch to end the game.
"Huge relief," Bergesen said. "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."
Roberts had three hits, including a solo home run on the 12th pitch of his at-bat in the fifth inning, as the Orioles (40-74) won their fourth straight game. They are 8-1 since Buck Showalter became manager. They clinched their third consecutive series win for the first time this season, and they'll go for the three-game sweep Thursday night behind Kevin Millwood.
Before Wednesday night, Millwood had been the only Orioles starter to pitch a complete game this season, and his was of the eight-inning variety in a loss at the Seattle Mariners on April 21. It was Bergesen's second career complete game and his first victory since May 12, a span of 13 starts. He walked two, hit one batter and struck out four.
"He was outstanding," Showalter said. "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."
Said Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz: "He's had some tough goes of it. I couldn't be prouder of him. I'm just so happy for him because 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. [Then] 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."
In his previous two starts, Bergesen had surrendered just three earned runs, 10 hits and two walks while striking out 10 in 14 innings. Those performances came after a stretch in which he had allowed four earned runs or more in eight of nine starts, his ERA escalating to 6.95.
However, during a bullpen session before his July 31 start at Kansas City, Bergesen made some minor mechanical tweaks and rediscovered his sinker. The pitch figured prominently in his previous two starts entering Wednesday night.
Though he has pitched much better of late, Bergesen still had gone 12 starts without a victory. He had beaten the Seattle Mariners on May 12.
The Orioles, who had their best offensive game of the season the previous night, tallying 14 runs and 13 hits, gave him a run in the first inning on Luke Scott's RBI groundout. Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin had thrown a wild pitch with runners on first and second and Scott at the plate, which allowed Nick Markakis to advance and score on Scott's ground ball to the right side.
The Orioles made it 2-0 in the fourth inning, which started with Tomlin's getting two quick outs before allowing a single to Felix Pie and a four-pitch walk to Matt Wieters. Cesar Izturis followed by ripping a fastball into right field for a line single that easily scored Pie.
The Orioles' lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth after a classic Roberts at-bat ended with the leadoff man depositing a 3-2 pitch just inside the foul pole in right field for a home run. Roberts quickly fell behind in the count but fouled off eight total pitches before finding the 12th pitch of the at-bat to his liking. It was his second homer of the season and his third hit of the night.
"That's one of those at-bats that is fun when you are in the middle of it, and then you're going, 'Oh man, if I don't get a hit here, it's going to be awful,'" Roberts said. "Not many of them end up in homers, so it made it even sweeter."
Leading 3-0, the Orioles had a chance to tack on an additional run later in the inning, but Scott was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on Adam Jones' double down the left-field line.
Heading into the fifth inning, Bergesen still hadn't allowed a hit. He had permitted only two base runners, and one of them came after he hit Jordan Brown in the leg with one out in the second inning. In the top half of the inning, Tomlin had drilled Jones in the shoulder, opening up the possibility that Bergesen would issue payback by plunking Brown.
The Orioles right-hander issued a leadoff walk to Michael Brantley to start the fourth, but it didn't come back to haunt him as Pie caught Choo's sinking liner and threw to first to double up Brantley and end the inning.
However, Bergesen couldn't work around another leadoff walk, this one to former New York Yankee Shelley Duncan to start the fifth. First baseman Ty Wigginton got a big out by tapping first with his glove after he made a diving stab on Brown's liner down the line. Matt LaPorta then flied out to Markakis in right field and moved Duncan to third with two outs.
Valbuena broke Bergesen's shutout and no-hit bids with a single to right, getting the Indians within 3-1.