Erik Bedard, the Major League leader in strikeouts, squaring off against the Texas Rangers, a free-swinging club already held hitless once this year and saddled with the sixth-highest strikeout total in baseball.To say form held would be a severe understatement.
"Obviously, that's as good a pitching performance as you're going to see all year," agreed Orioles manager Dave Trembley.
Bedard, who needed just 109 pitches in the first complete game of his career, remained typically nonplussed when he finally submitted to the media gathering outside his locker stall nearly 45 minutes after the last out.
Was it the best game he'd ever pitched?
"I guess you could say that," he said with a dismissive shrug.
Could he imagine a more dominant outing?
"I don't know," he said. "Perfect game? No-hitter? I just battled out there and threw some good pitches."
Did he take any satisfaction in tying Mike Mussina's club record of 15 strikeouts, or by leading the Majors with 149 strikeouts in his first 121 2/3 innings?
"Nope," he said. "We won the game, that's the bottom line."
But not even Bedard's strangely sullen manner could dim the luster of his 102nd, and finest, big-league start. Consider the evidence:
Bedard gave up a first-inning single to Desi Relaford and an eighth-inning single to Sammy Sosa. He erased both runners by throwing a subsequent double-play ball to face the minimum 27 batters.
"That's a two-hit perfect game," chuckled Mazzone.
Between the two hits, Bedard retired 19 consecutive hitters from the first through eighth innings. Included in that span was a stretch in which he struck out 10 of 12 hitters.
"They were swinging," Bedard shrugged. "I was throwing strikes with everything, so I guess it was tough for them to lay off pitches."
Bedard previously had peaked with eight innings pitched and 12 strikeouts in a game, which is where he was after eight innings on Saturday. He had thrown 95 pitches to that point, but went back out for the ninth and struck out the side (for the third time in the game) on 14 pitches, quite an exclamation point.
"I played with two great left-handers in Oakland -- [Barry] Zito and [Mark] Mulder -- and tonight he looked like one of them," said Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez. "I think he got excited [before the ninth] and said, 'This is my game, and I'm going to finish it.'"
Bedard only went to a three-ball count on a hitter once, striking out Relaford on a full-count fastball for the second out of the seventh. What were Rangers hitters thinking?
"They didn't say much," Hernandez laughed. "I remember one guy said, 'He finally threw a ball.' He was getting ahead of everybody."
For the Orioles, it was the first complete-game shutout since Daniel Cabrera blanked Toronto last Aug. 19. For Bedard, it was the fourth time this season he had worked at least seven shutout innings.
"What he did says it all," Trembley said. "I think this answers the question of whether he's a No. 1 or not. He's No. 1 on this staff. But he'll probably tell you it's just another game, because that's how he takes things."
Reporters unfamiliar with Bedard were taken aback by the left-hander's prickly attitude in the wake of such success. On a night that should have been filled with joy, Bedard acted almost childishly angry and difficult. Trembley acknowledged Bedard's attitude could distort how the pitcher is perceived on the national stage.
"I think the guy is just underappreciated because some people misread his aloofness for not caring," Trembley said. "And that's not the case. This guy's got a chance to rank right up there with all the great left-handed pitchers the Orioles have run out there over the years. The guy is outstanding."
And, finally in the black with a winning big-league record of 34-33, Bedard might be on the cusp of something big, whether he likes the attention it will draw or not.
"I think so," Hernandez said. "He's got great stuff. A power lefty with a good breaking ball? That makes hitters feel uncomfortable."
Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd conceded, "When he's on like that, you really have no shot."
Texas starter Brandon McCarthy (4-6) made one of his best starts of the season, only to be eclipsed by Bedard's brilliance. McCarthy held the Orioles to two runs (one earned) on four hits in six innings, but fell behind when he gave up Jay Gibbons' fifth home run with one out in the second.Baltimore scored again in the fourth, when Aubrey Huff singled with one out, moved to third on a Jay Payton single, and scored on an errant throw by Rangers catcher Gerald Laird. The Orioles staked Bedard to a 3-0 lead in the top of the ninth against Rangers reliever Willie Eyre. Jay Payton singled with one out, reached second on Gibbons' liner to center, and scored on Brandon Fahey's two-out single to center. The way Bedard was pitching, that three-run lead appeared insurmountable heading to the ninth. "Obviously, by about the fifth inning," Trembley said, "it felt like one [run] would be enough."
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.