The Orioles knew their four-game series against the Chicago White Sox would come down to pitching. The White Sox's vaunted staff is a major reason why they lead the American League Central, and none of their pitchers has been better than left-hander Chris Sale.
The Orioles' advance scouting reports told manager Buck Showalter what he already knew: Sale might be pitching better than anyone else in the American League.
To get to Sale, the O's knew they'd have to attack him — and his deceptive all-arms-and-legs delivery — early.
That's exactly what they did, forcing the 23-year-old into his shortest start of the season in a 6-0 win over the White Sox before an announced 12,841 at Camden Yards.
Sale had been dominant against the best teams in the AL East, and he had pitched into the seventh inning in his last 10 starts coming into the night. But that didn't deter the Orioles.
"There's never a sense of panic," said Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth, a left-handed hitter who had three hits Tuesday. "[It's] kind of a quiet confidence, let's go take care of tonight and worry about tomorrow tomorrow kind of thing."
The Orioles (71-57) won their fourth straight game and are now 14 games over .500 for the first time since June 21, 2005. They also kept pace with the division-leading New York Yankees, staying 3 1/2 games back, and remained tied for the top AL wild-card spot with the Oakland A's.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman (7-2) outpitched Sale (15-5), allowing just one infield hit over seven scoreless innings. With their seventh shutout win of the season, the Orioles held a Chicago lineup that leads the AL in homers to just two hits.
For Tillman, it marked the first time in 46 career major league starts that he didn't allow a run over seven or more innings of work.
"Every game is huge," Tillman said. "No one game is bigger than the other. I'm proud of this team, to be able to score those runs off the kind of pitcher they had out there tonight was impressive. He's one of the better guys out there right now. It was good to see."
Sale — who has won 12 of his previous 14 decisions — had held left-handed hitters to a .195 batting average, but left-handed hitter Nick Markakis had the biggest hit of the night, a bases-clearing, two-out double that gave the O's a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
"He's one of the best pitchers in the American League," Showalter said of Sale. "He's going to get a lot of votes for the Cy Young. We were fortunate. Nicky had the biggest hit of the night. … You see that he's a pitcher. There's some good stuff he's running up there. I'm proud of the at-bats we got, especially in the second inning, which really stretched out the pitch count."
Sale had just struck out four straight Orioles batters before McLouth hit a two-out looping single to right. Manny Machado and Robert Andino, the No. 8 and 9 hitters in the O's batting order, drew walks to load the bases. Markakis then lined a first-pitch slider into the right-center field gap.
"I don't know the other guys' feelings but right then, I felt we were going to win this game right here," said Lew Ford, who hit a solo homer off Sale in the third. "The whole team was putting good at bats on him. That was a huge hit. The way we've been playing, getting big innings like that, that gave our team a lot of confidence."
Ford, making just his second start since Aug. 12, homered in his second straight game, taking a Sale offering into the left-field seats. Ford, who spent five years out of the majors, hadn't hit a big league homer since July 29, 2007 until he homered in the second inning of Monday's 4-3 win over the White Sox.
Adam Jones snapped the longest homerless streak of his big league career (110 at-bats) in the seventh, hitting a solo shot off reliever Philip Humber. It was Jones' 100th career homer and tied his single-season career high (25).
Tillman, who recorded his fifth quality start in his last eight outings, held the White Sox hitless unless Dayan Viciedo's infield single to shortstop led off the fifth.
Tillman — who tied a season-high with four walks — walked the next batter, Alexei Ramirez, to put two on with no outs. But he got out unscathed by retiring the next three batters.
"It's one of those games that you felt like he could have finished if we needed him too," Showalter said. "He had a lot of speeds and planes at his disposal. Tilly's able to change planes when he's right. And that's a big weapon for pitchers."