Orioles starter Brad Bergesen gets a pat on the back from manager… (AP photo )
MINNEAPOLIS — — For nearly seven innings Thursday night, struggling Orioles starter Brad Bergesen looked like he did last year. He threw strikes, mostly located the ball down and kept his poise even when the Minnesota Twins were one hit away on a couple of occasions from ruining his night.
The Orioles needed their best pitcher in 2009 to return to form every bit as much as they needed a victory.
They gladly accepted both as Bergesen pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and three relievers shut the door in the Orioles' 2-0 victory over Minnesota in a game played in persistent rain before an announced sellout crowd of 38,489 at Target Field, the Twins' sparkling new home.
The Orioles went 64-73 in their history at the Metrodome, and they are now 1-0 at Target Field after a game played in a brisk two hours, 17 minutes.
"I'll tell you this, that's the best game I've ever seen Bergesen pitch," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He's a guy that we count on. He was our best guy last year as far as quality starts. He had the setback, went down to Triple-A. I think he's really handled himself very mature. He knew there were things he had to work on, both from the mental side and the physical side. He went and did it, and it showed tonight. You just have to be thrilled for him."
In their first shutout since Sept. 6, the Orioles (8-21) ended the Twins' four-game winning streak and broke a three-game skid of their own. They also won for just the fourth time in 17 road games.
Ty Wigginton continued to carry the Orioles offensively as his two-run homer off an otherwise strong Carl Pavano (3-3) in the second inning accounted for the Orioles' only runs. Wigginton now has 10 homers on the season, one fewer than he had all last year and two shy of the Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko for the American League lead.
Relievers Will Ohman, Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon combined to get the final seven outs while allowing just one base runner. But the story was Bergesen, who entered the game with a 10.57 ERA and allowed six hits and two walks, working his way out of a couple of jams to keep the Twins (19-10) scoreless.
"He kept throwing that sinker, getting ground balls, and did a good job of it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We had a couple chances, got a couple men out in scoring position, but he made pitches when he had to. Sometimes you just have to say the guy did a heck of a job against us. [It] hasn't happened very often, but we got shut down tonight."
It was Bergesen's second start since a brief demotion to Triple-A Norfolk, aimed at restoring both his command and his confidence. In the first one, Bergesen got the victory over the Boston Red Sox, but it was certainly not a performance that eased any concerns about the right-hander's form.
He allowed four earned runs on seven hits, including two homers, over just five innings. The positives were that he didn't walk anybody and stayed around long enough for the Orioles to benefit from scoring a total of 10 runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
But on Thursday night, he did pretty much everything right aside from falling behind several hitters.
"Tonight did feel good," said Bergesen, who had allowed four runs or more and not made it past five innings in each of his first four starts. "It felt back to normal again. It felt like it did last year. So to come in here, after getting swept last series, to get a win right off the bat is huge for us."
Bergesen credited the time he spent in Triple-A, which amounted to about 10 days, for helping him settle down mentally and get back to even keel.
"It's a stressful atmosphere [up here], and I got down there and really tried to relax and tried to get back to my old self," he said. "I had some good conversations down there. I think that was the main thing, just getting down there, getting away from it all."
Bergesen (2-2) was in the most trouble in the third inning as the Twins loading the bases on a double by Denard Span and consecutive two-out walks of sluggers Justin Morneau and Jim Thome. When Bergesen started Michael Cuddyer with a ball, he had missed the strike zone on nine straight pitches.
But Cuddyer did the Orioles a favor by hacking at Bergesen's 1-0 pitch. He hit it hard and well, but Adam Jones ran the ball down on the center-field warning track.
The Twins' bats were then mostly silent until the seventh inning, when an error by Orioles first baseman Rhyne Hughes put men on first and second with two outs. Ohman came in and walked Morneau after getting ahead 0-2 to load the bases, but then he stuck out Thome on a 2-2 pitch to end the threat.
Uehara, who was activated earlier in the day, threw nine of his 12 pitches for strikes in a perfect eighth in his first career relief appearance for the Orioles. Alfredo Simon then retired all three hitters he faced in the ninth to pick up his third save.
"It was a huge win for us," Ohman said. "After a great series against the Red Sox and then having things fall so flat in New York, to come play this type a game is a great thing."