CHICAGO - -They lounged in the visiting clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field, enjoying an early dinner, listening to loud music and watching highlights from other games on the television. It was a rare experience for these Orioles, and they seemed perfectly content soaking it all in rather than rushing to the team charter and heading to their next destination, another series loss in tow.
Their 5-4 victory yesterday over the contending Chicago White Sox, on an afternoon when rookie Jason Berken outpitched Mr. Perfect Game Mark Buehrle, clinched the Orioles' first series victory since the All-Star break and breathed a little life into a season that had been going progressively downhill for quite some time.
"We almost forget what [winning a series] was like, I guess," said Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who certainly threw a scare into his teammates, allowing a run in the ninth before stranding the tying run on second base by striking out Mark Kotsay for his sixth save.
The Orioles (51-73) hadn't won a series since taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards on July 10-12. They hadn't won a road series since winning two of three at Seattle on July 6-8, and they've now won just five series away from Camden Yards all year.
That it came against the White Sox, who started the day 3 1/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central and can ill afford dropping home games to a team playing out the string, made it even more enjoyable for the visitors.
"We've got very good young players. I don't think there's any question about that," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "The score doesn't always dictate the progress that's being made. Obviously, you learn a whole lot more when you win and the guys come together a lot closer as a team."
The Orioles' 11th win in 36 games since the All-Star break was highlighted by an uplifting performance from Berken, a pitcher who White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he had never heard of despite Berken's starting against Chicago twice this season. Perhaps, the White Sox's outspoken manager is more familiar with him now after Berken persevered through 5 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs to improve to 3-11.
"I don't want these people to take this the wrong way about the pitcher, I don't even know his name, but with the offense we have, we're better than this," said Guillen, whose team now faces the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in consecutive road series. "And we're going to face the big boys in two days? Good luck."
Buehrle, Guillen's ace, was knocked around for five runs and 11 hits over just 5 1/3 innings as he fell to 0-4 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts since pitching a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23.
Brian Roberts continued to torment the White Sox with three hits, two runs and a stolen base. Adam Jones put his team on the board with an RBI single in the first inning before he was removed from the game with mild mid-back muscle spasms.
Jones' replacement, Felix Pie, who had only 13 at-bats against left-handed pitching all year, hit a sacrifice fly in the Orioles' three-run third inning and then connected off Buehrle for a solo homer in the fifth. His fourth homer gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead and proved to be the game-winning run. Rookie left fielder Nolan Reimold also had two hits, including a 384-foot two-run homer in the third inning.
"It was good for us to come in here against a team that's battling for a playoff spot and play the way we did," Roberts said. "I've said earlier that it's not all about wins and losses right now. We hate losing - everybody hates losing - but we do have to look at the big picture. And the big picture is playing good baseball and getting these young guys some experience. Berky had a good growing day today, battled through some things and stayed in the game longer than some people would've thought."
Eschewing his normal four-seam fastball for a two-seamer that has less velocity but more movement, Berken found himself in trouble early. The first two White Sox to bat reached on errors. But Berken held Chicago to just one unearned run through four innings and was able to get out of a rocky fifth by allowing just two runs. He then got two outs in the sixth before being lifted for rookie Kam Mickolio.
Mickolio, Danys Baez and Jim Johnson combined to get the last 10 outs while allowing just two base runners, both by Johnson in the ninth.
"We don't want to just win a game here and there," Reimold said. "We want to put together some winning streaks and come out with some series victories. It's a good start for us here, and hopefully we can continue this success."
Rare road success
Sunday's win gave the Orioles only their fifth road series victory of the season and their first since early July: