CHICAGO -- After the Orioles opened up their largest division lead in nearly 17 years with a 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night, the visiting clubhouse of U.S. Cellular Field was loose.
Players sang along to the lyrics of the Zac Brown Band's song, "Free," as it blasted from the speakers after the Orioles -- sparked by a magnificent start from right-hander Chris Tillman -- extended their American League East advantage over the New York Yankees to 8 1/2 games. It's the club's largest lead in the division since Sept. 7, 1997.
"It’s awesome to come to the park every day expecting to win, expecting to be successful, expecting to be a playoff team, to give yourself a chance to do something special,” said catcher Nick Hundley, who hit his third homer of the season in the seventh inning. “It’s a totally different feeling instead of counting down the days until your offseason starts. I’m very fortunate to be in this position, I’m very fortunate to play with this talent of a team, this quality of a team.”
The win also gave the Orioles (72-52) their ninth series win in their last 10. They're now a season-high 20 games over .500 and have the third-best record in the major leagues.
Since June 30, the Orioles are 30-13. And one of the biggest reasons why the Orioles have put a stranglehold on the division is the consistency of their starting rotation.
“They’ve been solid, they’ve been the reason we’ve been able to stay consistent with some ups and downs offensively,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Effort, pitching and defense -- if you can stay consistent in that, you can be a consistent team.”
On Tuesday, Tillman picked up where right-hander Bud Norris left off in Monday’s series opener. Tillman held the White Sox (59-67) to one run and three hits in eight innings Tuesday, recording his 12th quality start in his last 14 outings.
It marked the third consecutive game in which the Orioles have allowed just three hits or fewer, tying a franchise record on the road (July 17-19, 1992 at Texas).
“I think this time of year, it’s a big deal,” Tillman said. “To get to where we want to be, we’re going to have to keep doing that. We know that as a pitching staff. It’s fun. Bud set the table perfectly for this game. I’ve just got to go out and execute. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Orioles also won their 38th game on the road this season, most in the AL. They now have won 11 of their last 16 games away from Camden Yards and their rotation has a 2.74 ERA in that span.
“We’re playing a good brand of baseball right now,” said Tillman, who is 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA over his last 12 starts. “Guys are showing up to the field ready to play. It’s fun. It’s been a lot of fun, especially the turnaround the pitching staff has had. We’re all pretty excited about it.”
Tillman was able to work ahead in the count against the White Sox, throwing 16 of 24 first-pitch strikes through his first seven innings.
“I think it makes it a lot easier when you’re 0-1 [in the count] and when you’re 1-2,” Hundley said. “It’s a lot tougher to do it when you’re 2-0. Chris did a great job of getting ahead, working edges. He didn’t leave many balls down the middle. When his fastball command is there, he’s got such life, and it’s tough to square up anyway. If he locates it, it’s going to be that much harder.”
Tillman made just one mistake in the game. He left an 0-1 changeup to Jose Abreu over the plate in the first inning, and Abreu hit it over the left-center field fence for his 32nd home run of the season.
Otherwise, no White Sox runner reached moved past first base. Tillman allowed just a pair of singles and, at one point, he retired 13 of 14 hitters.
Following a two-out single by Alejandro De Aza in the third inning, Tillman retired 10 straight hitters before issuing a leadoff walk to Abreu in the seventh.
Tillman (10-5) tied a career high with nine strikeouts and issued no walks. Command has been one of his keys. He has allowed just three walks over his last five starts, a span of 33 2/3 innings.
"It always is,” Tillman said. “Any time you get through a start with a minimum number of walks, it’s a big plus, I think. That’s the biggest pain in a starter’s butt is walking guys. I take a lot of pride in not doing it. You know what, you’re going to have your days where you walk them, but at the same time, it comes back to execution.”
Tillman won his third straight decision as he recorded his fourth straight quality start. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts and has gone at least eight innings five times this season. He is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in three August starts.
“If you look at the track record, he’s kind of, as the season’s gone on, he really gets into a good routine,” Showalter said. “You’ve just got to stay the course with him because he’s developed a track record at a young age. I let him pitch the eighth inning because he has the potential to get an extra day next time out if we want to do that. So, we’ll see.”
The Orioles have won each of Tillman’s last five starts, outscoring opponents, 30-12, in games that he has pitched in that span.
The Orioles took an early lead just three batters into the game when Steve Pearce’s ground-rule double that hopped over the left-field fence was followed by Adam Jones’ RBI single into left-center field, giving Jones his 76th RBI of the season.
Abreu tied the game in the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot that tied him with Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz for the AL lead in home runs. It snapped an 18-game home run drought for Abreu. That score held until the Orioles broke through with three runs against White Sox starter Jose Quintana in the sixth, all with two outs.
After Jones hit a one-out double, Delmon Young looped a run-scoring single to center field to score Jones and give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
J.J. Hardy singled to place runners at the corners, setting up Chris Davis’ two-run double that sailed past Avisail Garcia in right field and to the wall, scoring both Young and Hardy.
Quintana (6-10) suffered his third straight loss, allowing four runs and eight hits in six innings.
The White Sox bullpen, which allowed five runs in two innings Monday, didn’t help. Hundley took right-handed reliever Daniel Webb’s first pitch in the seventh inning into the left-field seats for his third homer of the season.
After Tommy Hunter pitched a scoreless ninth, Showalter was asked about reaching 20 games over .500.
“We’re one closer to getting through 38 and being in the playoffs,” Showalter said. “That’s what it means. But you just keep playing the games. They inch along this time of the year and you don’t spend a lot of time watching other scoreboards. You spend the time watching your own scoreboard.”
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