CHICAGO -- The All-Star break sounded like a good idea a week ago for the Orioles. Three days to lick their wounds, three days away from the inconsistent play.
But the mini-vacation turned out to be ill-timed, because the Orioles are rolling. They hammered the White Sox, 11-2, yesterday, completing their first four-game sweep in Chicago since 1969. Two days after the Orioles traded for Scott Erickson, he held the White Sox to two runs over six innings and picked up his first victory in an Orioles uniform.
Back in early June, Orioles manager Phil Regan said he wanted to go into the All-Star break "four or five games" behind the Boston Red Sox. They are six behind, but have won 12 of their past 17.
"This was an important series for us," Regan said. "We could've been right back where we wanted, if Boston lost [yesterday]. I wanted to be four or five games back. I'll take six right now. The way we're playing, I'll take it."
They dominated the White Sox.
"We got smoked, is what happened," said White Sox manager Terry Bevington.
In four games, the Orioles outscored Chicago 23-7. They didn't commit an error. They played 36 innings against the White Sox, and trailed for a total of five. Totally one-sided.
"Four good wins," Regan said.
The sweep came on the heels of the Orioles' two losses to the last-place Minnesota Twins, defeats that compelled Regan to admonish his team for inconsistent effort. He lauded his players yesterday.
"Every time we've had tough losses we've come back and played well," Regan said. "This was probably the best four games we've played this year."
Orioles center fielder Curtis Goodwin, who had his 19th multi-hit game in a career that is little more than a month old, said, "We didn't come in here with our heads down. We came here and took four games. . . . We needed a sweep. We need to win every game now."
If yesterday's game had been a boxing match, a referee would've stopped it in the first inning. Brady Anderson rolled a double inside the first base line, Bret Barberie blooped a single into center, Cal Ripken singled and Harold Baines smashed a three-run homer off White Sox starter Alex Fernandez.
Five batters into the game, the Orioles led 4-0. Just like that.
The White Sox had one, brief sniff of a comeback. Very brief. Lance Johnson singled to lead off, and Tim Raines walked, bringing Frank Thomas to bat. Maybe it was because Thomas had a lifetime average of .375 (9-for-24) against Erickson going into the game, maybe not, but Regan decided it was a good time to go to the mound to have a chat with his newest starter.
"Get a ground ball," Regan said to Erickson.
No problem. Thomas chopped to third, where Jeff Huson started a rally-killing double play. At that point, the White Sox needed smelling salts.
The Orioles poured it on after that. Three runs in the third inning, with Jeffrey Hammonds getting a two-run, two-out single. Another run in the fourth, after Goodwin and Anderson opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Another run in the fifth, when Chris Hoiles launched a bases-empty homer, his 10th of the year. Two more runs in the sixth, again a rally starting with Goodwin and Anderson getting on base.
Erickson, replaced after the sixth so some Orioles relievers could get some work in, talked afterward about how good it was to pitch with an early lead, and some Orioles talked about how good Erickson was.
"It's a great acquisition," said Hoiles.
"He's a quality pitcher, and any time you can get a quality pitcher like that, it's a boost to the team."
Thirteen of the 18 White Sox outs with Erickson on the mound came on ground balls, including three double plays.
"That's him," said Hoiles. "He battled. He knows what he's doing out there."
Funny how quickly things turn around in baseball. Just five days ago, the two losses to the Twins seemed monumental for the Orioles. They were playing poorly, and faced four games on the road in Chicago, where they've had trouble in the past.
Then this. Then, the sweep.
"It was nice to come here and take four games and play well before the All-Star break," Hoiles said.
"We're playing as good as we have all year," Regan said. "The pitching is getting stronger. We've been coming together. Our hitting is coming."
Hoiles agreed with Regan's assessment that these were the Orioles' four best games of the year.
"Yeah, I think so," he said. "We hit the ball well, threw the ball well. We beat them in all aspects of the game."
AL EAST AT THE BREAK
Team ...... W ... L ... Pct. ... GB
Boston ... 39 .. 29 ... .574 ... --
Detroit .. 37 .. 33 ... .529 .... 3
Orioles .. 33 .. 35 ... .485 .... 6
New York.. 30 .. 36 ... .455 .... 8
Toronto .. 27 .. 40 ... .403 ... 11 1/2