BEDARD is KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKing!
With the count a ball and two strikes, Jason Bartlett of the Twins swung through a 79 mph curveball for the first out in the first inning of today’s game, making Erik Bedard the Orioles all-time single season strikeout king with 219.
Bedard tied Mike Mussina’s ten-year-old club record in his last outing, after becoming just the third pitcher in team history to whiff 200 batters in a season eleven days ago at Yankee Stadium. Now the Canadian southpaw has Hall of Famer Rube Waddell’s franchise record (from the St. Louis Browns days) of 232 well within his sights. With 33 games remaining on Baltimore’s 2007 schedule, Bedard should get at least another half-dozen starts to comfortably put himself alone at the top.
Bedard was a fairly anonymous hurler with a 27-29 career won-lost mark entering the season, but coming off 15 victories last year, he got Baltimore’s opening day assignment against Johan Santana and the Twins. “I threw some good pitches and I threw some bad pitches,” said Bedard following a 7-4 loss in which he surrendered home runs on consecutive pitches. “They hit both”
He beat the Yankees on a chilly Sunday afternoon next time out in the Bronx, then the Royals and Devil Rays in succeeding starts, but finished April with an inflated 6.09 ERA. The league hammered him for 39 hits in just 34 innings, including more homers (6) than he’d ever previously allowed in a calendar month. Bedard did average 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in April however, the highest figure of his career at that point.
Things started coming together in May. He took over the league lead in strikeouts and pitched to a 1.71 ERA in six starts, though he didn’t break a stretch of seven winless weeks to earn his fourth win until his final start of the month. On May 20 in Washington, DC, Bedard collected his first two big league hits in addition to matching his career high with twelve strikeouts over seven three-hit innings. He had trouble getting his breath back after running the bases however, so he entrusted a 3-1 lead to Baltimore’s embattled bullpen. It would be the first of four potential Bedard wins coughed up by the Orioles relievers. “It happens every year,” Bedard remarked about his stretch of excellent efforts without any wins. “You go through a span where you don’t win for four or five games in a row, then you win five in a row. It’s part of the game.”
The bullpen flushed away two more games Bedard left with a lead in his first three starts in June, part of a disastrous 2-14 stretch that cost Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo his job. Bedard beat the Padres for his fifth win the first time he pitched under interim manager Dave Trembley, but had all Baltimore fans concerned after departing after just 79 pitches with a strained hamstring.
He was back on the mound six days later though, striking out the first four Yankees in a seven inning stint of two-hit, shutout ball to deny Roger Clemens his 350th win. Bedard allowed three home runs for the first time in his career in a no-decision next time out against the White Sox, but followed it up with wins in his next six starts.
- On July 7 at Texas, he pitched a two-hit shutout for his first career complete game and tied the club record for strikeouts with 15.
- He beat the White Sox 2-0 on Friday the 13th in Baltimore, out-dueling Chicago’s Mark Buehrle. Said Paul Konerko of the White Sox, “He’s one of those guys that’s not a mystery. Just tough to hit.”
- After having his start pushed back to July 20 due to a stiff neck, Bedard allowed only a solo home run with two out in the sixth inning over seven innings at Oakland to beat the A’s 6-1.
- Bedard struggled with his command on July 25 against the Devil Rays, but relied on his curveball to strike out eight over six innings in another 6-1 victory.
- Trembley almost pulled Bedard after both the fourth and fifth innings at Fenway Park on July 31 due to dehydration, but the lefty battled through six innings of two-hit work to beat Josh Beckett 5-3. Baltimore pitching coach Leo Mazzone said, “The greatest compliment I could give him is that I have coached some of the greatest rotations, and he could fit in with any of them.”
- Bedard -without his best fastball- still whiffed 11 Devil Rays over 6 2/3 innings on August 5 to run his record to 12-4.
Bedard’s streak of consecutive winning starts came to an end as he got no-decisions against the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively, in his next two outings. Against Boston, he carried a 1-0 lead into the top of the eighth against Daisuke Matsuzaka, but the game got wild late and Baltimore prevailed 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Bedard made it twenty consecutive scoreless innings against the Yankees next time out, only to watch the bullpen blow a three-run lead. At least the Orioles came back to win.
Bedard won his ninth consecutive decision (over thirteen starts) on August 21 against the Rangers, tying the Orioles single season strikeout mark with his eleventh of the night against the final batter he faced. It’s a pity only 18,926 where there to see it, because Bedard is doing things no Orioles pitcher has ever done before.
Baltimore deservedly has the reputation of a pitching franchise, thanks to six Cy Young awards won by four different pitchers, and ten different seasons in which an Orioles pitcher at least tied for the league lead in wins. Only once however, has a Baltimore pitcher paced the American League in strikeouts. That was Bullet Bob Turley in the Orioles first season back in 1954.
Turley , like Bedard this season, allowed the fewest hits per nine innings in the league, but the similarities end there. Bullet Bob was a right-hander that went on to win four World Series games and a Cy Young award for the Yankees, but he was an absolute wild man during his only season in Baltimore. Yes, he tied for the major league lead in K’s with 185, but he also led both leagues by a wide margin by handing out 181 walks! Orioles fans fed up with Daniel Cabrera may have suffered heart attacks if they’d been around for that.
Bedard is on pace to comfortably lead the major leagues in strikeouts, while ranking near the top of the league in both ERA and winning percentage. The Orioles have never had a starting pitcher average more than eleven strikeouts per nine innings in their 54-year history. He’s only 28. Enjoy him while you can.
By MALCOLM ALLEN