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CWS@BAL: Britton notches 10 strikeouts over eight

BALTIMORE -- Zach Britton started slowly. He needed 38 pitches to make it through the first two innings, with the left-hander allowing a run on five hits, and nearly allowed a second run.

But Britton and catcher Taylor Teagarden then made some changes. Britton's sinker and slider started working, and both pitches grew into mysteries the White Sox couldn't solve.

Britton quickly took command and struck out a career-high 10 over eight innings as the Orioles defeated Chicago, 5-3, at Camden Yards before 10,141 on Thursday afternoon.

The victory, combined with the Yankees' off-day, pulled the Orioles (72-58) to within three games of New York in the American League East. Baltimore now heads to Yankee Stadium for a three-game weekend series, where a sweep would create a first-place tie.

The Orioles play the Yankees seven times over the next 10 games, including four in Baltimore next weekend. That group of games is going to go a long way towards determining what happens to the O's postseason push.

"It will be fun," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Could be fun if we win. Our guys aren't going up there to experience the atmosphere. They're going to try to compete with the team we're trying to catch."

And Britton (4-1) put them in that position. He gave up one run on seven hits over eight innings, without issuing a walk. In fact, Britton never even reached ball three on a Chicago batter and threw 77 strikes on 104 pitches.

His only real trouble came in the second inning. Britton gave up one hit in the first, but the White Sox (72-58) got a run on four hits in the second. They would have had a second run, but center fielder Adam Jones threw out A.J. Pierzynski at home on an Alexei Ramirez single.

"I felt really good the whole game, even in the second inning," Britton said. "I felt like I made some pretty good pitches. I was just a little up in the zone. I was able to get down in the zone later in the game. Teagarden did an absolutely fantastic job today."

The game belonged to Britton following the second. After Gordon Beckham's two-out RBI single, Britton retired 19 of the final 21 batters he faced.

Britton's sinker and slider both featured nasty movement at times, especially down low. Several Chicago batters wound up leaning, lunging and missing.

"That was the most impressive I've seen him," Jones said. "I've seen some uncomfortable swings off him. But some of those guys over there, who have great numbers in general or are just great hitters over their careers, were taking some uncomfortable swings off him. That lets you know how his ball was moving."

Paul Konerko, who went 0-for-4, grounding out three times against Britton, echoed Jones' sentiments.

"He was just tough today," Konerko said. "He would have been good on any day, any night, anywhere. He had a lot of movement on his ball, but he was throwing a lot of strikes. If you tried to take a couple of pitches in a row, he was throwing strikes to keep you honest, where you had to swing the bat."

Britton was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk after the game. The Orioles signed pitcher Randy Wolf on Thursday, and he will be activated on Friday, forcing Britton out. But the young lefty will likely be back shortly, as the rosters can expand on Saturday. Britton could even start again on a normal schedule, depending upon how the O's shuffle the rotation.

The Orioles helped Britton on Thursday by giving him a big early lead. Teagarden sparked a four-run third inning with a solo homer and later added an RBI double to make it 5-1.

Teagarden came into the game with an .086 batting average and only three hits this season -- injuries held him out until mid-July -- but he belted a two-out homer off Chicago starter Jose Quintana (5-3) in the third. That tied the game at 1-1 and was the first of five straight extra-base hits that turned the game around.

Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy followed with back-to-back doubles. Hardy's gave the Orioles the lead for good at 2-1. Jones then blasted a two-run homer, his career-high 26th of the season, for a 4-1 lead.

Showalter brought in Pedro Strop to pitch the ninth, but Strop ran into trouble quickly, and closer Jim Johnson came on. He gave up a two-run single, but closed it for his Major League-leading 41st save, four short of the team record set by Randy Myers in 1997 -- the last time the Orioles made the playoffs.

And they're playing like a playoff team once again.

"These young starters are throwing the ball real well," Teagarden said. "Our bullpen's been the anchor all season. We get some timely hitting. Adam Jones gets a [big] home run. Before you know it, we've got a few wins."

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