Brad Bergesen and the Curse of Billy Butler

July 19, 2012 | Mark Brown

As a strong June turned into an equally strong July, you could almost let yourself dream a little bit. If this unexpected success could come out of nowhere, and if the O’s could add him into their future plans for all the prospects, well, maybe good times would really be coming. On Camden Chat, people were so excited for him that he got his own nickname – 3E1N, which was one part nickname and one part reminder on how to spell his name.

Truly dedicated Orioles loyalists in the vein of Jim Hunter even started talking about Bergesen in the context of Rookie of the Year voting. A little down-ballot noise for a surprising rookie starter managing to keep a mid-3s ERA would not have been crazy, although it still probably wouldn’t have competed with the eventual winner, Oakland’s strikeout king and closer, Andrew Bailey, who had 91 strikeouts in 83.1 innings and also had 26 saves. Some people really love saves. Former Orioles GM Andy MacPhail was one of them, which is why we are stuck with Kevin Gregg on the team this very day.

But back to Bergesen in 2009. His magical run rolled on until July 30 against Kansas City. He pitched a good game that day, giving up seven hits and only one run, six strikeouts and two walks. All of that came in seven innings. That’s a good start. The problem was the last batter: Royals hitter Billy Butler, who smacked a line drive straight back to the mound. The ball struck him in the shin. Matt Wieters recorded an out on the play, and Bergesen hobbled into the tunnel before collapsing.

There was no fracture, but he would not pitch again that season. When next we saw him in 2010, he was not getting the same results. In 30 games, he had a 4.98 ERA, and the next year was worse still. Was it lingering effects from the injury that made him never quite the same? Well, no, probably not.

Most likely he was just playing over his head those two months – but that’s not much fun to think. So in the same space in my head where the Orioles win the World Series in 1996 if it wasn’t for Jeffrey Maier, Brad Bergesen is the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year if not for that Billy Butler line drive.

He doesn’t much matter now – a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t really get ground balls any more. His failure is but a footnote compared to that of Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta, and just one more for the pile of failed Orioles pitchers over the past decade. His most recent arrival was unheralded; his swift departure, unlamented. At least we’ll always have 2009.