Nick Markakis, Taylor Teagarden

Nick Markakis congratulates Taylor Teagarden on his solo home run in the third inning Thursday afternoon. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / August 30, 2012)

Orioles manager Buck Showalter often has the same reaction when he thinks a question is obvious, when he thinks something is astounding or when he is sidestepping a pointed inquiry — he tilts his head slightly, cocks an eyebrow and utters one word:


With their 5-3 victory over the tough Chicago White Sox on Thursday afternoon, these surprising, befuddling Orioles (72-58) have moved within three games of the American League East-leading New York Yankees, who were idle Thursday.

After the victory — which occurred in front of a season-low announced crowd of 10,141 — the Orioles boarded a train for a three-game series in New York. If they can orchestrate an improbable sweep, the Orioles, who haven’t sniffed the postseason in 15 years, would be in a dead heat with the mighty Yankees atop the toughest division in baseball in September.

Tilt your head, cock your eyebrow and do your best Showalter:


“It will be fun. Could be fun if we win,” Showalter said about going into Yankee Stadium. “Our guys aren’t going up there to experience the atmosphere. They're going to try to compete with the team we're trying to catch.”

So move over, 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles.

Here come the 2012 “Really?” Orioles.

They did it again Thursday against a White Sox club (72-58) that leads the AL Central and had won six straight before heading to Baltimore. The Orioles captured three of the four games this week against Chicago and went 6-2 in the season series between the clubs.

“That’s a tough team. The White Sox are good,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “They pitch, they hit, they run the bases, they play great defense. We were just able to score more runs than them in this series.”

Statistically speaking, these Orioles don’t do much particularly well, at least not consistently, but they keep winning, oftentimes with a different hero nightly.

Zach Britton was the primary reason for Thursday’s win. The 24-year-old lefty, who has had a mercurial season that included missing the start of the year with a shoulder injury, delivered arguably his best performance of 2012. He lasted a season-long eight innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters. For the first time this year, he didn’t walk anyone.

After a shaky second inning in which he allowed four singles and one run — a two-out Gordon Beckham RBI base hit — Britton settled down. He retired 19 of the final 21 hitters he faced.

“I felt really good the whole game, even in the second inning. I felt like I made some pretty good pitches, but I was just a little up in the zone,” said Britton, who allowed seven hits and one run while throwing 77 of his 104 pitches for strikes. “I was able to get down in the zone later in the game. I was able to roll some balls over and get strikeouts when we needed them.”

Britton (4-1) has won all three of his starts and posted a 1.66 ERA since being recalled again from Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 18.

“That was the most impressive I’ve seen him,” Jones said. “I’ve seen some uncomfortable swings off him [in the past]. But some of those guys over there, who have great numbers in general or are just great hitters over their careers, were taking some uncomfortable swings off him. That lets you know how his ball was moving.”

Here’s another crazy moment in this bizarre season: After pitching superbly Thursday, Britton immediately was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk. Although the move seems harsh, it’s just procedural, creating a 25-man roster spot for recently signed veteran lefty Randy Wolf, who will give the Orioles another left-hander in the bullpen.

Britton will be back after rosters expand and Norfolk’s season ends Monday, meaning he likely will take his regular turn in the rotation Sept. 4 against the Toronto Blue Jays.