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McLouth's two-run homer puts the O's ahead

BALTIMORE -- It was a sloppy game in front of an intimate crowd, the kind of late-August contest that used to frequent Camden Yards and continually disappoint the Orioles faithful. But in a year of pleasant surprises -- and higher expectations -- one swing from Nate McLouth changed everything.

It was McLouth, released by the Pirates and playing in the Orioles' Triple-A system until Aug. 4, who emerged as the hero in a season full of them. Making up for a few missed chances, including two bases-loaded scenarios, McLouth propped up the O's with a two-run eighth-inning homer to seal a 4-3 win over the White Sox on Monday night.

"It's a winning mentality," said setup man Pedro Strop, who watched as McLouth erased his eighth-inning run with a go-ahead blast. "When you want something so bad, it makes you always think positive."

And when you're the Orioles this season, that optimism translates into affirmation. Monday's win improved Baltimore to 13 games over .500 -- tying a season-high set May 19 -- which put the plucky club 3 1/2 games behind the American League-East leading Yankees and tied for the first Wild Card spot. The O's also set a new club record in winning their 13th consecutive one-run game, and are 45-18 in games decided by two or fewer runs.

"This is as good of a club as I've ever had about staying in the moment," said manager Buck Showalter, who improved to .500 (137-137) since taking over the Orioles on Aug. 3, 2010. "That's a challenge when you are around so many things that aren't really realistic, to stay together and challenge the things that are really important."

The victory, played in front of 10,955 -- the second-smallest home crowd of the season -- snapped the AL Central-leading White Sox win streak at six. Closer Jim Johnson recorded his Major League-leading 40th save to give the Orioles (70-57) more wins through 127 games than they had all of last season.

Is this the mark of a playoff team, for an organization who hasn't played postseason baseball in 15 years?

"Yeah, because you get in situations like tonight when you lose the lead late and you don't give up," McLouth said. "Winning close games down the stretch is huge, and we've won quite a few of them since I've been here."

After Mark Reynolds worked a one-out walk, McLouth lifted reliever Brett Myers' 1-1 pitch into the right-field stands for the latest comeback victory by an Orioles club which has made a living off of it. McLouth's homer was the 54th -- second most in the Majors -- the club has hit after the seventh inning.

"It was a mistake and he got it," Myers said of the pitch to McLouth. "I'd like to have it back, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way. I thought I made some good pitches on [Reynolds]. Can't walk a guy in that situation. It came back and bit me in the rear."

Lew Ford got the Orioles on the board with a solo homer to open the second, which marked his first homer since July 29, 2007, and his first RBI of the season. The Orioles went on to load the bases with one out, but Nick Markakis lined into a double play. The offense would squander another bases-loaded shot in the sixth inning, tying the game when reliever Jess Crain walked in a run -- courtesy of McLouth -- but was unable to do any more damage.

Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen cruised early, retiring eight of nine before his own error -- on a failed assist from Reynolds -- put Dewayne Wise on to start the sixth. The fielding faux pas would immediately come back to haunt Chen, who watched Kevin Youkilis drill his next pitch into the left-field stands for a two-run homer.

That was all Chen would allow over six innings, with the 26-year-old lefty picking up another quality start in the no-decision. Darren O'Day followed with a scoreless seventh before Strop allowed a run on three hits in the eighth. McLouth ensured the run wouldn't matter with his second homer, which raised his average to .198.

"He's just in a good place," Showalter said of McLouth. "I thought our people in [Triple-A] Norfolk did a great job with him, not only working with him but the mental part. This guy was one of the better center fielders in the game at one time and he's worked very hard to get back to that level. He's a professional and he plays on both sides of the ball."

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