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Tillman one-hits Sox over seven scoreless

BALTIMORE -- You just can't make this stuff up.

An Orioles club predicted by many to finish last in the American League East, isn't just proving the skeptics wrong. It's bulldozing them down one improbable win after another.

On Tuesday, the Orioles chased All-Star White Sox pitcher Chris Sale -- fresh off a 13-strikeout win over the Yankees -- from the game after a career-low four innings, converting an early lead into a 6-0 victory as they maintained hold of an AL Wild Card spot.

"I'm proud of this team," said starter Chris Tillman, who exited to a standing ovation following seven dominant innings. "To be able to score those runs off the kind of pitcher they had out there tonight was impressive."

Impressive is fast becoming synonymous with these overachieving Orioles.

The O's, who have already eclipsed last year's win total, continued their all-out assault on the record books, improving to 14 games over .500 for the first time since June 21, 2005. Baltimore set a franchise record with its 13th consecutive one-run win Monday night and improved to an incredible 55-0 when leading after seven innings with Tuesday's victory.

How are the Orioles doing it? With a stout bullpen, an inexperienced-but-improving rotation and some surprising performances, chief among them outfielders Lew Ford and Nate McLouth, who are channeling their own versions of seasons past.

"I think that comes from just doing it," Ford said of the Orioles' quiet confidence, which has translated into wins in 16 of their last 22 games, shrinking the Yankees' AL East lead to 3 1/2 games. "When you get to the late innings, you're not expecting to lose. You feel you're still in the game and you have a chance. And that goes a long way."

Led by the continued emergence of Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot, the Orioles (71-57) put up a three-run second inning on Sale, chasing the 15-game winner after a mere 75 pitches. McLouth, fresh off Monday's game-winning two-run home run, had a two-out second-inning single and rookie Manny Machado and No. 9 batter Robert Andino worked a pair of walks to load the bases. Markakis ambushed Sale's first pitch, a 78-mph slider, sending it into right-center for a bases-clearing double to give Baltimore a 3-0 lead.

Sale needed 48 pitches to get through the first two innings and the O's made the hard-throwing lefty work with another walk to start the third. Ford extended the lead with a fourth-inning solo homer, his second in as many games, as the veteran outfielder continued his surprising revival.

"It's like I'm almost too excited sometimes because I feel really good," said Ford, signed out of the Independent League as a member of the Long Island Ducks earlier this season. "I don't exactly know how to put it. I feel like I can still compete up here, and I'm just happy to get a chance to."

Ford, who hadn't homered in the Majors since 2007 prior to Monday's knock, and McLouth, who chipped in three hits, are two of the latest Orioles to step up and contribute in a season full of underdog heroics.

Added McLouth: "There's never a sense of panic [in the dugout]. Kind of a quiet confidence, 'Let's go take care of tonight and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.'"

Tillman did just that in an impressive outing, channeling a singular focus that had the 24-year-old unaware that he hadn't allowed a hit until Dayan Viciedo's infield single to start the fifth.

"He was sharp," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman, who allowed just one hit, marking the first time in his career he has gone at least seven innings without giving up a run. "It's one of those games that you felt like he could have finished if we needed him to."

Following Viciedo's hit, Tillman issued a walk to Alexei Ramirez, but retired the next three batters to keep Chicago off the scoreboard. Originally scheduled to start Sunday's rainout, Tillman looked sharp from the onset and retired the first seven batters he faced in outdueling Sale for his seventh win.

"We hit probably one ball hard," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "[Tillman] was that good. Nothing was hit hard. He didn't seem like he got behind hardly anybody."

"His confidence is in throwing strike one," center fielder Adam Jones said of the change in Tillman, who has struggled with consistency in previous seasons.

"He's attacking that strike zone. That's what it is. You've got to compete up here. If you sit there and think that your talent is just going to get you here and you're just going to stay here because you're talented, that's not the case. He's getting to understand that. And he's going out there and proving his value. And you get one shot to make it in this game and he's out there helping out this team the best he can."

So is Jones, who snapped the longest homerless stretch of his career -- 110 at-bats -- with a solo shot in the seventh off reliever Philip Humber. The homer was the 100th of Jones' career and gave him 25 on the season, which ties his career high.

"You always feel like with Jonesy that if he has struggles for a couple days, that somebody's going to pay," Showalter said. "Somebody's going to pay."

Orioles lefty Brian Matusz followed Tillman with two scoreless innings, throwing 19 of 24 pitches for strikes in his second career relief outing. Matusz recorded a pair of strikeouts and allowed one hit in putting the finishing touches on the Orioles' latest victory.

"We are playing good baseball," Jones said of an Orioles club trying to makes its first postseason in 15 years. "That's the most important part. Individual accolades, they are awesome, but we are winning."

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