Berken Puts Away Jays

After Early Stumble, Rookie Toughs It Out For His First Victory Since May 26 Debut

August 08, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

TORONTO - -For the first time in 10 weeks, Orioles rookie starting pitcher Jason Berken wasn't asked about his confidence. He didn't field any questions about his stretch of losing decisions, or his escalating ERA.

He didn't need to suppress his emotions either while wondering whether his first stint in the big leagues was coming to an end.

"It's been a long two months, that's for sure," said Berken, managing a smile after he pitched the Orioles to a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night before an announced 30,795 at Rogers Centre. "It feels good to have a happy interview for a change. Obviously any win, you don't take for granted."

Berken knows that now. He had lost nine straight decisions since beating the Blue Jays in his major league debut May 26. Entering Friday's start, his ERA was barely under 7.00, and the 25-year-old right-hander was smart enough to know that one of the only reasons he was still in the Orioles' rotation was that the organization simply had no other preferred options.

"This was a big start for me," Berken said. "I'm not naive. I know it's time for me to start pitching better. By no means [does this mean] I have it figured out or something. There's still a lot of work to be done. I give [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] a ton of credit. He stuck with me. We've worked a lot these past couple of weeks and made a couple of small changes. I felt better tonight."

After allowing solo homers to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in a span of four pitches in the second inning, Berken (2-9) showed the type of toughness and resolve that impressed his Orioles teammates even when his numbers clearly didn't. He allowed just one more run, when rookie Nolan Reimold misplayed Aaron Hill's generously ruled RBI double in the fifth.

After the double, which put runners on second and third with one out and the Blue Jays already leading 3-0, Berken got Adam Lind to ground out and then fanned Lyle Overbay to end the inning. He then pitched a perfect bottom of the sixth inning after the Orioles had scored four runs in the top of the frame to take the lead. Berken allowed five hits, walked two and struck out six in his third quality start this season.

"He could have caved in and the team could have, as well. It could have been, 'Here we go again,' but he didn't do it," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He pitched his best baseball in the fifth and sixth inning. He really showed us something in the fifth, stranding runners at second and third with the infield in and then coming out and putting a zero up.

"He's had a rough go of it, but he hasn't panicked. I thought tonight he really grew up. I'm happy for him and I'm happy for the team. It's been a real, real tough stretch. We're battling our butts off. It's good for everybody to get this win."

In beating the Blue Jays in the series opener on the same day Toronto honored its back-to-back world championship teams from 1992 and 1993, the Orioles (46-63) won for just the sixth time in 21 games after the All-Star break. It was just their second win in the past eight games.

And it didn't come easily, though Berken didn't expect that it would. The Orioles trailed 3-0 and had only one hit through five innings against Blue Jays rookie left-hander Ricky Romero. But they scored four times in the sixth inning, a rally sparked by rookie Matt Wieters' leadoff walk and Nick Martwo-run double off the glove of Overbay.

The Orioles added three more in the eighth, as Wieters, Reimold and Ty Wigginton had RBIs to give the visitors a 7-3 lead. In the bottom of the eighth, the Blue Jays had two runners on and had gotten to within three runs on Wells' single. Rios popped Chris Ray's pitch to shallow right field. It appeared destined for a two-run hit, but Markakis made a diving catch, holding Rios to a sacrifice fly. Ray then got the final out of the inning to keep the Orioles' lead at 7-5.

"If that ball lands in there, it could have been a totally different inning," Ray said. "He's great out there. He's definitely an asset."

Jim Johnson came in and retired Aaron Hill, the Blue Jays' best hitter this season, with a man on to end the game. It was Johnson's third save but his first since inheriting the role after the trade of George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I think I owed it to him because I blew one for him before," Johnson said about saving the game for Berken. "These guys have been pitching their butts off. It's not easy to pitch in the big leagues. They have to figure it out, and they're doing their best. So if we got the opportunity to close it out at the end of the game, all the guys in the bullpen want to get that done."

Box score

for Friday's game PG 4

ORIOLES @BLUE JAYS

Today, 1:07 p.m.

TV: MASN HD, Ch. 13

Radio: 105.7 FM

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