CHICAGO – The Orioles made their way west Thursday evening riding the momentum of having won their first two road series of the season, heading to Anaheim for the last leg on their three-city, 10-game road trip.
Anyone who suggested the Orioles would leave winners of five of their first seven games of the trip would have be deemed optimistic, but their play away from Camden Yards over the past week has the team sitting pretty atop the American League East at 8-5.
The Orioles' 5-3 win over the White Sox on Thursday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field gave them three wins in four games here on Chicago's South Side, before traveling to Anaheim for three games against the Angels. They began the trip by taking two out of three in Toronto.
"We're going to play good baseball," said right-hander Jason Hammel, who tied a career-high with 10 strikeouts and battled to allow just two runs on six hits. "It's still early in the season, but this is what we prepared for in spring training, working hard. The season's going to be a grind, and we're going to have our ups and downs, but we're going to play good baseball and we can control that."
After three starts as an Oriole, Hammel has allowed just five earned runs in 19 innings for a 2.37 ERA. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his first start April 8 against the Twins and tossed five innings of two-run ball in the Orioles' 6-4 win over the Blue Jays on Saturday.
"He hasn't given in to the lure of, 'Ah, it's just one of those days,'" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He keeps battling, and he's in a good place mentally right now. He loves being in Baltimore. He's been a great teammate who's fit in very quickly, and I think you're seeing the result of the atmosphere that he's in."
Center fielder Adam Jones drove in three runs, including a two-run homer in the fifth-inning off Severna Park native Gavin Floyd that gave the Orioles a 5-2 lead.
Jones' homer was part of a three-run Orioles fifth. Robert Andino, who had two hits, led off the inning with a triple. After Endy Chavez was hit by a pitch, Andino scored on J.J. Hardy's sacrifice fly to center two batters latter.
Jones then took an 81-mph curveball from Floyd on a 3-2 count well over the left-center field fence for his team-high fifth homer of the season.
The Orioles took the lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Jones, in which he took an outside pitch the opposite way over the second baseman's head to plate Chavez. One batter later, Nick Johnson's ground out to third put the Orioles up 2-0.
"We have a good group of guys. Most of these guys have won, are coming from other organizations, and we are feeding off them and they are offering us good advice on how to win," Jones said. "And we got a different mindset in here this year. We are not letting up on anybody."
Hammel fought through some tough times early. He labored through a 29-pitch first inning and had thrown 74 pitches after three.
But he dodged trouble early, stranding runners at second and third in the first. In the third, the White Sox struck with two runs — one on Adam Dunn's one-out double and another on an Alex Rios RBI single.
But Hammel stranded the bases loaded by striking out left fielder Dayan Viciedo and catcher Tyler Flowers to end the inning and start a run of eight straight retired batters.
"He's given us quality innings," said closer Jim Johnson, who worked a scoreless ninth for his sixth save. "Any time we have a guy we feel we can lean on to pick us up, that's always a sense of relief for us, and it makes our job eaiser and it keeps guys healthy. It kind of has a chain effect on the rest of the guys. He's a guy we want taking the mound every fifth day, and we're happy to have him."
After Matt Lindstrom tossed a scoreless seventh, the White Sox tacked on a run in the eighth against right-hander Pedro Strop, who allowed a leadoff walk to Paul Konerko and then a run-scoring double by Rios.
But Strop settled down after that, striking out Viciedo looking and Flowers swinging.
Johnson loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth with a walk, a single and a hit batsman, but he recovered by striking out Rios looking to end the game. Despite a 31-pitch inning, Johnson has now converted 14 straight save opportunities dating back to last season.
"I wasn't trying to make it as dramatic as it was, but it's good to get three out of four here," Johnson said. "We want to keep it going. I think it's been a little bit of everybody. Hammel, he really battled his butt off today. He very easily could have folded with the way things were going in the early part of the game. The rest of the bullpen did their job, and the guys came up with that three-run inning, so it's a good team win."