BALTIMORE, April 7 -- In the American League, Steve Kline has learned there are bunts that aren't quite bunts and first basemen who don't see enough bunts to know how to field them. And there are teams -- such as the Oakland Athletics, who beat the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, 5-1, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- that have a potent hitter in every spot of the lineup, often making the idea of a bunt moot.
Each of these pieces of wisdom came into play in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game when, with two on and no outs, Oakland's Eric Byrnes -- the No. 2 hitter in the lineup -- tried unsuccessfully to bunt the first pitch. In the National League, where Kline has spent most of his career, if a player attempts to bunt the first pitch, he typically will try to bunt the second. Not so in the AL, where they play a different brand of baseball. Kline found that out the hard way, when Byrnes swung away on the second pitch, crushing a three-run homer that was the decisive hit in the A's win.
Orioles' Sammy Sosa walks to first base with plate umpire Laz Diaz after being hit by a fourth-inning pitch from Danny Haren of the A's.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
"He just pulled his bat back and crushed it to center," Kline said. "I was hoping he [bunted] so he gave me an out. Tonight I learned about the three-run homer. Welcome back to the AL."
Kline had thought all along Byrnes was going to sacrifice. He threw Byrnes a fastball down the middle.
"If I throw a sinker out and away, he grounds out," Kline said.
It was not the only adventure for the Orioles involving a bunt in that inning. With Oakland shortstop Marco Scutaro at first base, Jay Gibbons, who has played in 65 career games at first base, cut off a throw to first base from Kline after a sacrifice bunt from Mark Kotsay. Second baseman Brian Roberts stood behind Gibbons ready to accept the throw.
"I've never seen that before," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Byrnes followed. Another run scored against Kline with a single from Erubiel Durazo. Orioles starter Erik Bedard's stellar outing -- seven innings, three hits, one run -- was wasted.
The quick results of the Orioles' young starting rotation are mixed. Daniel Cabrera flopped in his debut on Wednesday. Bedard was magnificent.
If anything, the Orioles' two young pitchers in two games have shown they are fearless. In the fourth inning, Bedard struck Oakland's star third baseman Eric Chavez in the shoulder, one half inning after Sammy Sosa had been struck by a pitch from A's starter Danny Haren, who matched Bedard by allowing one run in six innings while giving up only three hits. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz warned both benches. It did not stop Bedard from pitching inside to Durazo. Bedard sent Durazo reeling with a first-pitch fastball later that inning. Durazo glared at Bedard, who never flinched.
The retaliation by both sides seemed to have originated from Cabrera hitting Oakland first baseman Scott Hatteberg in Wednesday's game. After being struck that night, Hatteberg yelled at Cabrera, who responded with an icy stare.
The Orioles may one day consider themselves lucky they did not trade Bedard for former A's pitcher Tim Hudson, which nearly happened this offseason.
"How could you not be impressed [by Bedard]?" Roberts said. "It's about as good as you can throw the ball. He deserved to win."
The best part about Bedard on Thursday was his ability to be economical with his pitches. Last season, he walked 71 batters in 137 1/3 innings and threw an astounding 19.4 pitches per inning. He reached the seventh inning only twice.
"The biggest thing was pretty much the change up," Bedard said. "I show it. I can throw it for a strike. I just got a grip that I felt comfortable with. There's no point in throwing it if you throw it in the dirt and never throw it for a strike."
Bedard effortlessly threw into the seventh inning on Thursday and may have pitched more had he not been struck by a ground ball from Durazo in the seventh. He retired the side in order in four of his seven innings and ended his outing by retiring the last 10 batters he faced. He finished with 105 pitches.
"The kid threw like we had talked about in spring training," Mazzilli said. "He changed his sequence of pitches and how he went after hitters. That's the type of pitcher he's turning himself into."
Kline's education continues.