BALTIMORE -- Dylan Axelrod knew teammates Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko were joking around on Tuesday when they told him he had to win his start on Wednesday; that the White Sox season was on the line.
The situation wasn't that dire for Chicago on Wednesday night at Camden Yards, but the club had lost the first two games of a four-game set against the Orioles, as well as five consecutive road games.
So Axelrod stepped up in his first big league start since July 16, hurling a career-high 7 1/3 innings and enjoying some early offensive support in an 8-1 victory.
With the Tigers losing to the Royals, the White Sox will carry a three-game lead in the American League Central into Thursday afternoon's series finale. Then comes a crucial three-game set in Detroit over the weekend.
"They talk about being a stopper, and I'm not that," Axelrod said. "But I came out with that mindset, of putting forth my best effort and getting this team back on the winning track, and hopefully that carries over into [Thursday] and then into Detroit, because that's a big series coming up."
Axelrod (2-2) was 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA in six previous big league starts this season. But the 27-year-old right-hander had pitched well in his previous outing at Fenway Park, and also logged a solid performance at Yankee Stadium on June 28.
Starting at yet another AL East ballpark on Wednesday night, and in his first career appearance against the Orioles, Axelrod permitted only one run on three hits. He struck out five, walked four and threw 65 of his 112 pitches for strikes.
"He was really tough," Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis said. "We knew what we had ahead of us going into the game, he wasn't going to overpower us with anything, liked his slider a lot. He mixed it up, changed speeds, and he pounded the strike zone. You've got to tip your hat to him. They came out and swung the bats well, gave him a nice lead. He really didn't need much tonight."
Axelrod was optioned to Double-A Birmingham after the game to free up a roster spot, but he will return Sept. 4, once Birmingham's season ends.
Beckham went 3-for-4 with three RBIs for Chicago, which pounded out 12 hits and went 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position to post its largest margin of victory since July 24. Alexei Ramirez also collected three hits and drove in two, as the White Sox spoiled the Orioles debut of Joe Saunders, propelled by a four-run first inning.
The White Sox gave Saunders -- acquired on Sunday from Arizona -- no time to get settled in, with Dewayne Wise slapping a single to left field to open the game. With the bases loaded and one out, Alex Rios came through by lining a two-run double to center, and one out later, Ramirez flared a single into shallow right for another pair of runs and a 4-0 lead.
The Orioles put seven runners on base over the first four innings, but managed only one run. That came on Omar Quintanilla's sacrifice fly in the fourth, part of 13 consecutive outs recorded by Axelrod until Donnie Veal replaced him after a one-out walk to J.J. Hardy in the eighth.
"After the third inning, I came in and [bench coach] Mark Parent said, 'Just trust your stuff. You're good enough. Don't nibble,'" Axelrod said. "It's simple. I know that, but sometimes it just takes that reinforcement. I was able to go out and challenge them after that, for the most part."
Beckham notched his first three-hit game since June 29, ripping an RBI double off the left-field wall in the fourth, then lining a two-run single past a drawn-in infield in the sixth, after the Orioles replaced Saunders with Kevin Gregg. Dayan Viciedo added an RBI single in the seventh to make it 8-1.
"I definitely was pretty calm up there," Beckham said. "That was the most important thing, and then just reacting. That was good. It was good to just be relaxed up there and react to where the pitch was."
Saunders was charged with seven runs, six earned, in 5 1/3 innings, giving up 10 hits.
Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.