CHICAGO -- The way the red-hot Orioles are playing these days, no deficit seems insurmountable.
So when left-hander Wei-Yin Chen quickly fell behind the Chicago White Sox in the first inning Wednesday night, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the Orioles would come back.
The Orioles were clearly the superior team this week on Chicago’s South Side, completing their first series sweep of the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in 19 years with a 4-3 victory in front of an announced 15,137 that included a significant amount of Orioles fans.
Through a span of three batters, the Orioles’ quick-strike offense turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead in the fourth inning. They hit three homers in the game against White Sox starter Hector Noesi — including Nelson Cruz’s career-high-tying 33rd home run of the season, a two-run go-ahead shot in the fourth.
Chen steadied himself to record his fourth start of seven or more innings in his last five outings, winning his career-high 13th game of the season. And the Orioles' lockdown bullpen preserved the one-run win through some tense moments late in the game.
“We’re really good as a team,” said Cruz, whose majors-leading 33rd homer tied the career high he set in 2009 with the Texas Rangers. “We’re doing the little things that matter in the end. The pitching, the bullpen, it’s amazing to see everybody do their job and go about their business.”
The Orioles (73-52) completed their first sweep of the White Sox on the road since taking all four games here on July 6-9, 1995. The Orioles had already won their ninth series in their last 10 with Tuesday’s victory.
“It’s unbelievable the way we’re playing,” Cruz said. “It seems like every day somebody is coming up and stepping up. It’s more exciting. It’s nothing better than coming to the ballpark every day with the chance of winning every game.”
Cruz, Steve Pearce and Adam Jones each hit a home run for the Orioles, who lead the major leagues with 161. The Orioles outscored Chicago, 17-6, in the three games this week.
“You give yourself some opportunities,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There were some things we weren’t perfect with tonight, but when you pitch well, it can cover some things when you catch the baseball. We played three good defensive games here.”
They now lead the American League East by nine games over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays, their largest division lead since they were 9 1/2 games up on the New York Yankees on Sept. 6, 1997.
The Orioles also won their 39th road game this season, the most in the AL. In their last 17 road games -- in which the Orioles are 12-5 -- the Orioles pitching staff has a 2.37 ERA. The club's rotation has a 2.82 ERA in that span.
“It’s a good quality to have because when we get down the stretch, we’re going to play some important road games,” said reliever Darren O’Day, who stranded the potential go-ahead run in the eighth inning with the Orioles holding a one-run lead, of the team’s success on the road. “And in the playoffs you obviously have to play on the road, so it’s a good quality to have.”
The Orioles are a majors-best 31-13 since June 30, and the club's starting rotation has allowed three runs or fewer in 37 of those 44 games (84 percent). The entire staff has a 2.87 ERA in that span.
Chen (13-4) allowed just three runs and six hits in 7 1/3 innings, recording his sixth win in his last seven decisions.
Chen recovered nicely from allowing a two-run homer to White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia in the bottom of the first inning. After the home run, Chen retired the next 10 batters before giving up a leadoff double to Paul Konerko in the fifth.
Chen maintained the 3-2 lead, however, stranding Konerko at third base. He induced back-to-back groundouts to Pearce at first base before striking out No. 9 hitter Leury Garcia to end the inning.
“The same with Tilly,” Showalter said, referring to Chris Tillman recovering from giving up a first-inning homer in Tuesday’s win. “Sometimes osmosis will take over if you keep watching other guys do it and you know you’re capable of doing it.
"[Pitching coach] Dave [Wallace] talks all the time about minimizing damage if something happens. You get back on the horse and keep your team engaged. There’s been some times in the past where we’ve let that get away from us.”
Trailing, 2-0, Pearce sent the first pitch of the fourth inning into the left-field stands for his 13th homer of the season. Pearce, who is now essentially in an everyday role with Manny Machado injured and Chris Davis filling in at third base, has six extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers) in his last four games.
After Jones followed with an infield single, Cruz turned on a letters-high, 0-1 fastball from Noesi (7-9) and sent it into the left-field stands for his second homer of the series, giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead.
Jones, who had three hits on the night, put the Orioles up, 4-2, on an opposite-field solo blast to lead off the sixth inning for his 24th homer of the season.
“Our lineup, our guys are doing really good,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “Even if we are behind, we can catch up. Still, as a pitcher you don't want to fall behind. You don’t want to give up any runs. So, that’s what I tried to do out there, I tried to give up as few runs as possible.”
The White Sox (59-68) cut the lead to one on Avisail Garcia’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, but Chen still recorded his fourth quality start in his last five outings. Chen has allowed three runs or fewer in seven of his last eight outings.
But he might not have gotten the win had it not been for O’Day.
O’Day relieved Chen with runners on first and second bases and one out in the eighth. But the right-hander struck out both Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia to escape the jam. O’Day has allowed just one run over his last 24 appearances. In that span, he has a 0.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 innings.
Closer Zach Britton pitched a perfect ninth for his 27th save in 30 opportunities this season as the Orioles improved to 25-19 in one-run games.
“We’re never out of a game,” O’Day said. “We really aren’t. Even if we give up a run or two early in the game, these guys hit the ball over the fence, and you get points when you do that.
"We started to do a good job of coming back, and the bullpen’s been shutting guys down. We like where we’re at.”
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