BALTIMORE — After starting the season 4-0, even the most pessimistic of fans had to be feeling good and rightfully so.
But Detroit ace Justin Verlander provided a strong dose of reality in a stellar eight-inning, nine-strikeout performance to lead the Tigers to a 7-3 win over the Orioles, sending Baltimore (4-1) to its first loss of the season.
Of course, a little perspective is in order. The Orioles weren’t going undefeated this season, just like there’s no reason to harp on the first defeat of 2011. These nights will happen with any team in any season, especially when you’re facing one of the few bona fide aces in the American League.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You know, four-pitch mix and not a whole lot of tendencies in the sequencing [of pitches] and understands what he’s doing out there. Very athletic.”
Orioles starter Brad Bergesen, on the other hand, was ineffective in his first work since a spring training outing on March 25 when he was hit in the arm with a line drive. The right-hander went 3 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (two earned) and five hits before being lifted in the fourth inning after throwing 89 pitches.
The second inning was especially costly for Bergesen and the Orioles when two errors — one made by the pitcher on a pick-off attempt at second that came after a Brian Roberts error on a pop-up to shallow right — contributed to two unearned runs after Bergesen had recorded the first two outs of the inning.
Six of the Tigers’ first seven runs came across the plate with two outs in the inning. Detroit catcher Alex Avila drove in five runs, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning that contributed to Bergesen’s early exit.
The Orioles starter was up in the strike zone and was unable to put hitters away without using too many pitches. His two earned runs allowed matched the two runs allowed by Baltimore starters in the first four games (26 total innings) of the season.
“I just never seemed to get in 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.”
In contrast, Verlander had a six-pitching inning in the second, a nine-pitch fifth, an 11-pitch seventh, and a nine-pitch eighth on the way to his first win of the season. The 28-year-old is 6-0 in eight career starts against the Orioles.
The Orioles got on the board via a two-run homer by first baseman Derrek Lee, his first with the club, and Vladimir Guerrero plated the Orioles’ third run of the night with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. That would be all the lineup could muster against Verlander, who gave way to Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning.
“[Verlander’s] one of the best pitchers in the league, and we ran into him tonight,” third baseman Mark Reynolds said. “He pitched well, threw all his pitches for strikes. You’re just going to have those nights. I don’t think there’s been any team that’s gone 162-0. We’ll just come back tomorrow and get ready to go and hopefully get out of here with a series win.”
You can look back at any win or loss and wonder what could have been, but Wednesday night’s outcome was pretty simple.
Verlander and the Tigers were far better than Bergesen and the Orioles. Detroit’s ace was going up against Baltimore’s fifth starter, who only learned he was starting in place of the ill Jeremy Guthrie two days ago.
Not an excuse, but a fact.
The incredible run of starting pitching wasn’t going to last forever. It’s one loss that doesn’t mean any more or any less than the first four wins to begin the season.
The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.
And the Orioles hit their first bump in the road against one of the best pitchers in the American League.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Buck Showalter, Brad Bergesen, and Derrek Lee following the 7-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.