Lew Ford congratulates Nate McLouth after the Orioles beat… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
The Orioles spent 7 1/2 innings nearly giving away a game they couldn't afford to lose against the sizzling Chicago White Sox on Monday night at Camden Yards.
But in leading this team past the misery of 14 straight losing seasons, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has refused to look back, whether it's back to years of mediocrity or the last inning. And on Monday, the Orioles overcame their early-inning failures with another comeback win, this one coming on Nate McLouth's two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that propelled the Orioles to a 4-3 win over the American League Central-leading White Sox, snapping Chicago's six-game winning streak.
“This is as good of a club as I've ever had about staying in the moment,” said Showalter, who evened his record as Orioles manager to 173-173. “That's a challenge when you are around so many things that aren't really realistic, to stay together and challenge the things that are really important.”
With their third straight win, the Orioles (70-57) surged past the Tampa Bay Rays into the second place in the American League East and are just 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Yankees, their smallest deficit since June 24, when they were 2 games back.
The Orioles, who are a season-high 13 games above .500 for just the second time this season, also are tied with the Oakland Athletics for the top AL wild card spot.
McLouth hit his second game-winning homer in the last week. He hit a seventh-inning, two-run shot that proved to be the difference in the Orioles' 5-3 win in Texas on Tuesday.
"Score one more run than them,” McLouth said. “That's all you got to do. It's tough to do. I don't know. Those one-run games can make or break a season sometimes."
Right now those one-run games are making the Orioles' surprising season. The win also marked the Orioles' 13th straight one-run win, setting a franchise record. The Orioles are now 24-6 in one-run games this season.
The win, however, came in front of a crowd of 10,995, the second lowest crowd at Camden Yards this season.
The comeback came after the Orioles fell behind 3-2 in the top of the eighth when reliever Pedro Strop allowed three straight singles to open the inning, the last one a lazy grounder to second baseman Robert Andino, who had no one to throw to at first base.
Strop was able to get out of the inning without further damage, inducing a double-play ball from Paul Konerko and striking out Alex Rios to end the inning.
“[We have] a winning mentality,” Strop said. “When you want something so bad, it makes you always think positive. You never think anything negative. We want to get in the playoffs and battle in the playoffs, so I'm never going to think anything negative. We're all thinking positive. Everybody's hustling and trying to get the job done and win games.”
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, benefiting from an extra day of rest, gave the Orioles his fourth quality start in his past five outings, allowing just two runs — one unearned — and four hits over six innings.
Chen was nearly a tough-luck loser. He held the White Sox scoreless through his first five innings of work. But he dropped a toss from first baseman Mark Reynolds while covering the bag to put the leadoff man on in the sixth. The White Sox made Chen pay when the next hitter, third baseman Kevin Youkilis lined a Chen first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead on Lew Ford's solo homer in the second, his first home run as an Oriole and his first big league homer since July 29, 2007.
The Orioles loaded the bases later that inning, but Nick Markakis lined into a 6-4 inning-ending double play, with shortstop Alexei Ramirez catching Manny Machado off second base.
Trailing 2-1, the Orioles loaded the bases again in the sixth with no outs — and tied the game on a bases-loaded walk to McLouth, but couldn't scrape another run across.
The White Sox (71-56), who opened the night with the second-best record in baseball since May 17 (54-34), issued seven walks, including three to Reynolds.
That last walk to Reynolds was critical. He worked a six-pitch walk with one out in the eighth, which proved to be the difference in the game. McLouth was the next batter, and he took Brett Myers' 1-0 fastball deep for the game-winning homer.
Closer Jim Johnson converted his majors-leading 40th save in the ninth, improving the Orioles record to 57-1 when leading after eight innings. After the game, Showalter reveled in another example of his team's resilience.
“They move on,” he said. “[There] was an opportunity we let slip through. Let's keep it close and see what happens. … I think they realize, we as a staff and everything, it's a hard game to play. You are going to have ups and downs.”