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CWS@BAL: Alexei belts a two-run shot to left field

BALTIMORE -- As White Sox players and coaches dressed or ate dinner following Thursday's 6-3 victory over the Orioles, it was hard to miss the Tigers-Indians game playing on most of the televisions in the Camden Yards visitors' clubhouse.

Jose Valverde made quick ninth-inning work of the Indians for his 33rd straight save, changing the channels almost immediately back to other baseball action or even preseason football. That Detroit victory also kept the White Sox (58-59) four games out of first place in the American League Central with 45 games remaining, but placed them just one game behind the Indians for second.

It was just one Thursday ago when the White Sox were doing pretty much the same thing, minus the viewing of the Tigers' game, getting ready for a seven-game trip to Minneapolis and Baltimore. The overall tone was a bit more subdued, coming on the heels of a four-game home annihilation administered by the Yankees.

But the White Sox are returning to U.S. Cellular Field for a nine-game homestand beginning on Friday with the confidence that this group can become an elite, division winner if their play continues to resemble this 6-1 road excursion.

"We just can't go home and go 1-6 now," said Mark Buehrle, who earned the victory in Thursday's series finale. "That's our problem. We do this for a week and then go bad for a week."

"To come to the two places and win the two series was huge," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who accounted for three of the White Sox 13 hits off four Baltimore pitchers. "To sweep one [Minnesota] and win three out of four here with a chance to win the fourth, hopefully that momentum carries over at home."

One could accurately argue that Thursday's victory was pretty much over after the first at-bats for Ozzie Guillen's crew. It certainly was put to rest by the time the White Sox were done hitting in the third.

The White Sox scored four runs in the opening inning via five hits before Baltimore starter Chris Tillman (3-5) could retire a hitter. Buehrle eventually extended his streak of allowing three runs or fewer in a start to 18 straight, tying Frank Smith's franchise record (1908). So basic mathematical deductions seemed to indicate three wins in four games for the White Sox against the Orioles without much adding on.

Guillen and his players were confident, but certainly not overconfident.

"Having those runs early and with Buehrle on the mound throwing the ball the way he has been throwing the ball the last couple of months, you feel good, a little comfortable," Guillen said. "In the meanwhile, you never take that for granted. Those guys can come back in a hurry. They have a lot of good hitters out there and they can hit it out of the ballpark any time."

Juan Pierre, who had hits in each of the first three innings and three for the game, started the first with a single and scored on Alexei Ramirez's two-run homer. Ramirez ended a 0-for-9 skid with his 12th blast and broke loose from a prolonged 1-for-15 skid entering the night.

Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin and Pierzynski delivered back-to-back-to-back doubles, raising the margin to four. The White Sox hadn't started a game this season with even three consecutive hits and the five straight hits in an inning tied a season high. Pierre singled home two more in the third for a 6-0 advantage, officially ending Tillman's night, with memories of that disastrous first lingering.

"A bad start is always frustrating," said Tillman, who gave up six runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings. "It wasn't necessarily bad pitches but they got way too comfortable early. By the time I noticed, it was almost too late, you know?"

"All throughout the lineup in this series and the last one, we had production from the bottom and the top," Pierre said. "That's how we drew it up form Spring Training and it hasn't gone that way but we're right in the thick of things with six weeks to go."

Baltimore didn't go down without a fight, as Brad Bergesen held the White Sox scoreless for 4 1/3 innings in relief. Nick Markakis' two-run homer, marking the 100th of his career, capped a three-run third against Buehrle, but those were the last runs the Orioles would score. Buehrle came up with a big strikeout of Markakis to end the fifth with runners on second and third and protect the three-run lead.

Buehrle improved to 10-5 on the season, giving him double-digit wins during the past 11 years or every year as a starting pitcher. He struck out six over eight innings and didn't issue a walk for a second straight start, before Sergio Santos fired a perfect ninth for his 25th save and a Major League record with 25 straight scoreless road appearances to start a season.

"Coop [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] said I was going deep no matter what," Buehrle said. "Get the bullpen a break. To get early runs, that always helps."

"This guy, whenever he leaves from Chicago, he'll be one of the best pitchers to ever pitch for the White Sox," said Guillen of Buehrle, who threw just 104 pitches.

About the only way to make this week sweeter for the White Sox would have been to sweep the Orioles, while the Indians swept the Tigers. For now, the White Sox will happily build on their current standing.

"Great road trip," Buehrle said. "To go 6-1 on any road trip is a plus. We've just got to take the momentum home."

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