Erik Bedard demonstrated in the third inning on Wednesday night, when he struck out two batters looking and got the opposing team's hitting coach ejected from the dugout. Baltimore's starter didn't have his best command but continued the most impressive streak of his career by earning his fifth straight win in a 6-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
Bedard, the Major League leader in strikeouts (175) by a wide margin, has a 1.89 ERA in his last seven starts.
"They took a lot of pitches. He had to get big outs and didn't give in," said interim manager Dave Trembley. "He was helped by good defense behind him and I thought he was very special tonight because he didn't give in at all. I think tonight shows why he's such a good pitcher -- because he pitches, he doesn't throw. He stayed with his game plan, and they were working the count really well, taking a lot of pitches [and] getting a lot of deep counts. And he kept pitching."
The numbers are impressive through any prism and telling from any angle. Bedard has been especially dominant in his last four starts, allowing 19 baserunners and logging 41 strikeouts. The left-hander (10-4) lowered his ERA to 3.05 on Wednesday night -- fifth-best in the American League -- and has struck out seven batters or more in nine of his last 10 starts.
Bedard hasn't lost since Trembley took over control of the team and has allowed more than three earned runs just once in his last 16 starts. More importantly, the Orioles have gone 16-12 since his six-decision win streak started.
"The team feels pretty good," Trembley said of his Bedard's starts. "Let's get ahead and shut them down and we're going to have a chance to win. I think that's what's going on and it's kind of getting contagious a little bit the way the starters are following one another."
Bedard wasn't at his dead-level best on Wednesday night, but he didn't have to be. The former sixth-round pick allowed at least one baserunner in five of his six innings and reached a pitch count (109) identical to the one from his complete-game shutout in Texas. Most of that was because the Devil Rays (38-62) went out of their way to make him work.
"They took a lot of good pitches and fouled a lot off," Bedard said. "I'm just throwing strikes and getting ahead a lot. Today wasn't that way. My fastball was a little erratic, but my curveball was there. I depended more on that than my fastball."
Baltimore (46-53) made two outstanding defensive plays to aid Bedard. The first one was by third baseman Aubrey Huff, who dove to his glove-side to stop a rocketing ground ball in the second inning. The next one was turned by Luis Hernandez, who turned a difficult double play with one out and two men on in the fifth.
The score was already 3-1 by that point, and Baltimore went on to score three unanswered runs. Bedard worked through the sixth inning and handed the ball to the bullpen, which threw three one-hit innings.
"The thing that helped me most probably was the defense," Bedard said. "Huff made an outstanding play and Luis made a great play to get a double play. Without those, I'd probably be done in the [fifth] inning."
"The strength of our club has been pitching and defense and staying away from the big inning by catching the ball," added Trembley. "I've always said that the defense has a way of turning the game around. And it turned the game around back in our favor and we came back and scored. It just turns momentum around and it gives everybody on the bench a second wind."
Some of that credit has to go to Baltimore's offense, which put together a well-rounded performance against rookie Andy Sonnanstine. Eight of the home team's nine starters reached base on Wednesday night, and the Orioles took a three-run lead in the first inning on the strength of two bloop singles. After that, the game was in Bedard's back pocket.
Perhaps the key play of the game came with the bases loaded in the first, when Ramon Hernandez lifted a shallow popup to short left field. Left fielder Carl Crawford and shortstop Brendan Harris both converged on the ball, but neither one called for the ball demonstrably. It fell in for a single, and Jay Payton followed with another run-scoring hit.
"It was a normal fly ball," Hernandez said. "I think there was a misunderstanding on who was going to catch the fly ball. They got confused, I guess. They saw each other and it kind of fell in the middle. It's always a big play when you get two ribbies out of that and they should be out of the inning. ... You don't want to do that when you're facing a pitcher that's been pitching pretty good."
The O's scored three more times over the final few innings, and Corey Patterson homered in the seventh to provide the final run. With the win, Baltimore improved to 17-13 under Trembley and closed to seven games under .500 for the first time since June 13. The Orioles have won four of their last five games, two of their last three series and will go for the sweep on Thursday.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.