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Orioles feeling 'good vibe' after sweep of Rangers

One impressive road series against a division leader does not wipe clean a disastrous first half for an Orioles club still in position to post the worst record in franchise history.

But a four-game sweep of American League West-leading Texas, which culminated Sunday with a rookie who grew up as a Rangers fan pitching the Orioles to a 4-1 victory, sure eases the pain of grappling with baseball infamy.

"You can't feel any happier for these guys. They are playing hard and come in here and win all four games on the road at this ballpark," Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel said. "These guys are feeling pretty good in there."

In what had to be one of most improbable results of any series in any big league town this season, the Orioles (29-59) outscored the Rangers 23-12 to complete their first four-game road sweep since doing it to the Chicago White Sox in 1995.

The Orioles, who lost both games in Arlington in May, hadn't swept a four-game series here since 1976, four years after the Rangers' inception.

"It's awesome. These last couple weeks, we've really been playing well. Everything is starting to come together," said reliever Jason Berken, who retired five of the six batters he faced and finished the first half with an eye-popping 1.95 ERA in 32 games. "To win four in a row against this team, a very quality team with a really good lineup, is huge for us."

In the first two nights of the series, the Orioles needed late-inning heroics; in the last two, they took early leads and watched their young starters and increasingly effective bullpen limit Texas' potent offense to two total runs.

Chris Tillman gave up two hits in 7 1/3 innings Saturday night, and then rookie Jake Arrieta, who grew up in nearby Plano, allowed six hits, two walks and one run in 6 1/3 innings Sunday for his third straight quality start and fifth in seven big league outings.

"From start to finish, the series went extremely well. If a starter didn't fare well, the bullpen was able to come in and pick them up and put zeros on the board, and the offense was able to get runs to get us on top," Arrieta said. "What Tillman did [Saturday] night was huge for his confidence; I was very proud of him. Then to top it off with a win today feels really good for the team."

It also was particularly special for Arrieta, who went to countless Rangers games as a kid and as a college student at nearby Texas Christian. He estimated there were 100 people there to watch him in the 95-degree heat Sunday afternoon, including several behind the Orioles' dugout who gave him a standing ovation as he left in the seventh.

Arrieta (3-2) allowed a runner on base in every full inning he pitched but yielded just one run, a homer in the first to Ian Kinsler. Otherwise, he pitched out of each jam, twice getting inning-ending double plays.

"That should build up his confidence," Samuel said. "He pitched himself out of trouble, and that is very important for these young guys."

It was not a good day for the Rangers (50-38) or starter C.J. Wilson (7-5), who had as many wild pitches as hits and runs allowed: three each. He walked five in 4 2/3 innings and threw a mind-numbing 111 pitches while recording 14 outs.

Wilson came into the afternoon with a 3.24 ERA and hadn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his previous six starts. He gave up three runs in the decisive third inning on an RBI double to Julio Lugo and Corey Patterson's two-run double.

Wilson walked Miguel Tejada all three times he faced the Orioles third baseman. Tejada, who had 11 walks in 367 previous plate appearances this year, hadn't walked three times in a game since May 20, 2007. He had two more chances to set a personal record, but he grounded out in the seventh and then homered against Frank Francisco in the ninth.

"If he would have gotten four [walks], I think we had to go get champagne for Miggi," Samuel joked. "You know Miggi likes to swing early in the count. He doesn't walk a whole lot, but I guess he was feeling pretty good today."

The suddenly resurgent bullpen shut down the Rangers for 2 2/3 innings; Alfredo Simon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 13th save. The Orioles started the 10-game road trip 1-5 in Boston and Detroit but turned it into their best of the season by finishing 5-5. It was their first victory in 15 road series this season.

The Orioles' four-game winning streak, which ties a season high, comes at the end of the first half of what has been perhaps the their most troubling season. Dragged down by a deflating 2-16 start, their record is the same through 88 games as the one the 1988 club posted in a franchise-worst 107-loss season.

But lately, the Orioles say, there has been a different feeling in the dugout and clubhouse -- that life is on the upswing.

"Obviously, winning helps. Anytime you are winning, it seems to be a little more upbeat, a better vibe," Berken said. "But I think for the last month or two, we've had a good vibe in here."

Although the All-Star break could halt the recent momentum the Orioles have created, right fielder Nick Markakis said the streak's timing is perfect.

"It's big, especially going into the break," Markakis said. "It gives everybody a good feeling, a good plane ride home, a good break, and we've got a nice homestand coming home, 10 games, and we can put ourselves in a good position to start the second half."

That was the common sentiment in the visiting clubhouse as the Orioles pulled off one of the biggest suprises of their season.

"To sweep this team, one of the best teams in the league, in Arlington, that is huge for our team's confidence," Arrieta said. "It's a great way to end the first half. We are doing a lot of good things right now, and hopefully we can keep it going in the second half."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/danconnollysun

Fabulous four

A look at each game of the Orioles' four-game sweep of the first-place Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

Thursday

Orioles 6, Rangers 4: The Orioles' bullpen pitches 41/3 scoreless innings while the Texas relievers melt down late. In the Orioles' three-run eighth, Rangers pitchers hit two batters and issue a bases-loaded walk.

Friday

Orioles 7, Rangers 6, 10 innings: Corey Patterson, right, hits his first career grand slam to tie the score with two outs in the ninth inning, and Jake Fox follows with the winning solo shot in the 10th.

Saturday

Orioles 6, Rangers 1: Chris Tillman grabs the spotlight from Cliff Lee, who was making his Texas debut. Tillman allows just one run on two hits in 71/3 innings, and the Orioles hit three home runs to cruise to a win.

Sunday

Orioles 4, Rangers 1: A three-run second inning and Miguel Tejada's solo homer in the ninth are plenty of run support for Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, right, who gives up one run in 61/3 innings in getting the victory

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