CHICAGO -- Jeff Ballard isn't known for his fastball, but that's the pitch that put him in charge of the Chicago White Sox last night.
"The fastball set up everything," the lefthander said after the 5-1 win that snapped the Orioles' three-game losing streak. "For somebody with my style, you like to be able to get people out with the fastball.
"I was able to get a lot of guys out early in the count. I had real good command of the fastball. That made everything else more effective."
Ballard (2-1) came within one inning of pitching the first complete game of the year for the Orioles. He also came close to facing the minimum number of hitters possible -- facing only 24 over the first eight innings.
"I was aware of it," said Ballard. "I thought I might get it. That's a big feeling -- more than just a shutout when you have a chance to do something out of the ordinary.
"It would have been nice. The triple play would've done it," said Ballard.
He was referring to the triple play while he was pitching last year -- and that manager Frank Robinson removed him after Ron Karkovice and Ozzie Guillen led off the ninth with singles.
"When I went out there he asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this [take Ballard out]," said Robinson. "I told him, 'As sure as I'm standing here.' "
Robinson wasn't aware that Ballard had faced the minimum number of hitters (while allowing four hits) in the first eight innings, but Ballard knew he was on the verge of something special.
"I'm way ahead of schedule," quipped Ballard, who matched his win total of 1990. "I guess all in all it's been a good year. It should be all downhill from here."
Ballard threw only 93 pitches and was aided by a pair of double plays, a runner thrown out stealing and an outfield assist from Dwight Evans on Karkovice's bloop single.
"I did what you have to do when you get a lead -- concentrated and pitched," said Ballard. "Sometimes when you get ahead you take things for granted, then boom, it gets away from you."
The win enabled Ballard to extract a measure of revenge for the 9-1 loss he suffered Opening Day, when Sammy Sosa had two home runs. "They attacked the same way they always do," said Ballard. "It's a good lineup and [Frank] Thomas gives them some pop."
But this was a night when Ballard was fine-tuned, 1989 style. He had a four-run lead by the fourth inning and never looked back.