It started with Jeremy Guthrie five days earlier in Game 1 of the Buck Showalter era, and it continued with him Sunday as the Orioles orchestrated another quality win against one of baseball's hottest teams.
Under Showalter, the Orioles are getting more clutch hits, playing tighter defense and paying more attention to the little things that had cost them game after game the previous four months. But the primary reason they are winning and no longer look like a pushover is that their starting rotation is on a run the likes of which the Orioles haven't experienced in some time.
Guthrie, the team's best starter for much of the season, allowed just one run in eight innings, and the Orioles survived a tense ninth inning to beat the Chicago White Sox, 4-3, in front of an announced 18,283 at sun-splashed Camden Yards.
Showalter is 5-1 at the helm of the Orioles, who clinched no worse than a four-game series split against the American League Central-leading White Sox. Chicago had lost only 13 of its previous 50 games before dropping two of the first three games of the series.
"You're playing one of the worst teams in baseball. We should come in here and beat these guys," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who took the loss, allowing four runs (three earned) over seven innings. "When you look at their lineup, it's like, 'How is this team that bad?' They got [Brian] Roberts back and that makes their lineup better, and their pitching staff has done a good job of holding our guys down."
Since Showalter took over, Orioles starters have compiled a 1.94 ERA and have quality starts in six consecutive games, the first time that has happened since April 28-May3, 2008.
Nobody has been more impressive than Guthrie, though his effective -- at times dominant -- stretch of starts goes beyond Showalter's arrival. In five outings since the All-Star break, Guthrie is 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA. He has gone seven innings or more in four of those five starts and allowed just 30 hits and three walks in his past 351/3 innings. On Sunday, he allowed six hits and one walk to improve to 6-11 with a 4.04 ERA.
"I understand, I watched. It hasn't been the case all year, but it's not like these guys have never pitched well this year," Showalter said. "And they seem to be feeding off each other. They want to keep the quality starts going, and I'm OK with that. I really am. ÃÂ We pitch like this with our starting pitching, we'll play with anybody or any club. You pitch like this and you make runs matter and the margin [for error] decreases ÃÂ but that's true of any team in baseball."
There were plenty of other things for the Orioles (37-74) to feel good about. Shortstop Cesar Izturis hit a bloop single in the second inning for his 1,000th major league hit and then made a great diving play to rob Alex Rios of a single to lead off the eighth.
Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Ty Wigginton all had RBI hits, and Felix Pie connected for a second-inning solo homer off Buehrle as part of a 10-hit attack against the veteran left-hander.
Closer Alfredo Simon pitched the ninth for his 17th save, allowing a two-run homer to Ramon Castro before retiring the final two batters of the game.
"Pitching and defense wins games," said Markakis, who broke a tie at 1 with an RBI double in the Orioles' two-run sixth. "Our guys are going out there and throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys. I think that's the biggest thing. It allows us to come in there relaxed instead of us having to go out and score two runs every inning. That's when you win those close games, and this past week, we've won those games."
Guthrie was in trouble at times Sunday, allowing at least one runner to reach scoring position in each of his first three innings. However, he held a dangerous Chicago lineup off the scoreboard until Rios' two-out single in the fifth tied the score at 1.
After the hit, Guthrie retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced on his way to pitching eight innings for the second time this season.
His final pitch was a 93 mph fastball that overpowered Carlos Quentin to give Guthrie a perfect eighth inning and four strikeouts on the afternoon.
"Just trying to be more aggressive," said Guthrie, who allowed totals of 10 earned runs, 16 hits and eight walks in 82/3 innings in his final two starts before the All-Star break. "That's about the only thing I can put a finger on, is throwing more strikes. My goal is to walk zero guys each game and make them hit the ball."
With Koji Uehara warming up in the bullpen and Guthrie's pitch count past 100, Showalter acknowledged that there was some thought of removing the right-hander from the game after the seventh.
However, Guthrie asked Showalter and pitching coach Rick Kranitz to stay in the game for the eighth, and with the way he was pitching, he didn't have to plead his case too much.
"I thought the eighth inning was the key part of the game," Showalter said. "That was impressive. We told him to empty the tank there, and that part of the order, I thought was key. He was outstanding."
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