Orioles starter Brad Bergesen delivers in the fourth inning… (AP photo )
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — — Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler cost Brad Bergesen the last two months of his rookie season and a possible run at the American League Rookie of the Year award when he nailed the Orioles starter in the left leg with a line drive.
Exactly a year and one day since that injury, which took the young pitcher months to recover from, Butler cost Bergesen a long-awaited victory that he deserved.
Asked to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning, David Hernandez served up a tape-measure two-run homer to Butler, who sent the Royals to a 4-3 victory Saturday night in a brisk two hours, nine minutes in front of an announced 25,055 at Kauffman Stadium.
"Last year it was a little more painful night for me personally," said Bergesen, who gave up just two earned runs over seven innings in one of his best starts all year. "But you know, I've tried to get that out of the back of my mind. You still have those thoughts when he comes up to bat and you see his big old swing coming right at you."
Hernandez's rocky outing came just a night after Orioles gave closer Alfredo Simon a one-run lead in the ninth inning and watched him surrender a game-ending, three-run shot to Alex Gordon. The two defeats dropped the Orioles to a season-high 40 games under .500 at 32-72. They enter the series finale today with a 1-5 record on this road trip and with just three wins in 15 games since the All-Star break.
"Ballgames like last night and tonight are tough to digest," said interim manager Juan Samuel, who will lead the Orioles for the final time today before he is replaced by Buck Showalter. "We end up losing both games the same way on the long ball after Bergy did a tremendous job. He threw a lot of strikes, the ball was moving, he obviously had his sinker working, the breaking ball was very good. These are tough to digest, but these guys have been doing it and you have to stick with these guys."
Two days earlier, Hernandez, who has emerged as one of the team's more reliable relievers, pitched two shutout innings and then earned the win against the Royals when the Orioles scored a run in the top of the 11th inning.
He struck out Butler in the 10th inning of that game, but Saturday night, he left a 2-2 fastball right over the plate. Butler sent it 418 feet for his 10th home run.
"Two nights ago, I threw three straight pitches on the outer part of the plate, and he didn't swing," said Hernandez, who got the first out of the eighth on a fabulous catch by right fielder Nick Markakis on Chris Getz's drive in the gap. Jason Kendall then singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, which forced Hernandez to challenge Butler.
"I just out-thought myself for some reason," Hernandez said. "I thought I had to come inside, and I didn't get it far enough in. If I'm going to come in, I've either got to knock him down or hit him, one of the two. I can't leave a ball middle-in right there because that's exactly what he does with it."
Butler's drive cost Bergesen his first victory since May 12. The second-year pitcher had lost five straight starts and seven straight decisions.
"That's definitely the worst part," Hernandez said. "He's not had the season that he would like to have, and he definitely pitched very well tonight. He deserved to win. Me getting the loss, yeah that's hard, but he deserved to win."
Bergesen allowed only five hits and one walk while striking out four. After Mitch Maier's solo homer to lead off the top of the third, Bergesen retired 12 of the next 14 batters before he allowed three straight singles in the seventh, with Maier's RBI single cutting the Orioles' lead to 3-2.
"His ball was moving even better than it usually does," said Butler, who went 0-for-3 against Bergesen. "He throws a hard sinker. Today, I thought he was throwing a little bit harder than he usually does. Our scouting report said he's throwing 89 [mph] to 91, but he was throwing mostly 92 to 94. He was a little amped up. … He had his way with me."
Bergesen had allowed 17 earned runs, 28 hits and six walks over 161/3 innings in his previous three starts since the All-Star break, and he was generally viewed coming into the day to be pitching to keep his spot in the rotation.
However, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Saturday that the plan is to keep the rotation intact at least through one more turn so that new manager Buck Showalter can make a fair evaluation.
Bergesen's latest start certainly won't hurt, and it came on a night where he matched up well with reigning American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.
"Obviously it's tough for us to have a loss but that's baseball," Bergesen said. "It's been a roller-coaster year for us, obviously. I'm not disappointed with Dave whatsoever. That guy has been having a great year and it was just one pitch that Billy Butler was able to catch."