All of a sudden, and perhaps in the nick of time, the Orioles are playing like the Orioles again.
Still hitting very well, Baltimore is at last getting the kind of pitching it needs to make a serious run in the American League East. Scott McGregor's four-hitter left the White Sox forlorn in the Orioles' 6-1 victory today in Comiskey Park.
The Orioles have won four of their last five games. In those four victories, they have given up five runs.
"It's a real good sign," McGregor said. "It can be a great second half . . . We've been trying so hard to get things back together . . . When (Mike) Flanagan pitched that three-hitter the other night, I said, 'Now that's the way we used to pitch.' He looked so nice and relaxed; it was like he was playing catch with the catcher. Today, I wanted to let myself pitch and not force myself to pitch."
The Orioles will need more of the same as they begin a four-game series at home against first-place Toronto, 10 1/2 games ahead of Baltimore.
"It's a pretty important series," Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver said. "We have to cut some ground off now, and the only way to do it is beat Toronto three out of four. Four out of four would be a bonus."
Today's bonus for Baltimore and McGregor (9-8) was a victory over Chicago's best pitcher, Britt Burns (11-7), and more hitting.
Baltimore, after being shut out on one hit by Burns through five innings, hit three home runs in a four-run sixth. Rich Dauer ended the scoreless game with his second homer of the season, both off Burns. "If someone's gotta hit it out, I'm the man to do it," joked Dauer, who was in the lineup at third base partly because of that earlier success against Burns and partly because of Floyd Rayford's sore leg.
After Cal Ripken's sacrifice fly scored Alan Wiggins (two hits) and made it 2-0, Eddie Murray hit his 18th homer of the season, 430 feet or so into the seldom-explored territory behind the center field fence. Gary Roenicke then hit one of Burns' few curve balls into the left field upper deck to make it 4-0.
Roenicke, who hit two homers off Burns in one game earlier this year, wasn't sure how he hit a near-perfect pitch. "Burns kept shaking off (the catcher), so I didn't know what he was going to throw," Roenicke said. "He hasn't thrown me a curve ball in a couple of years. And it's the first curve ball I've hit in awhile."
Weaver shook his head and said, "You're not gonna make a better pitch than Burns threw to Roenicke . . . But it seems, the better the pitching is (by the opposition), the better we hit . . . Burns looked like real trouble today. He was pitching like a sonofagun, but all of a sudden, bip, bam, boom, the ball's jumping pretty good."
It didn't jump at all for the White Sox, who only scored in the sixth on Joel Skinner's double, Luis Salazar's bunt and Scott Fletcher's hit.
Otherwise, McGregor only allowed Fletcher's leadoff single in the fourth, erased by a double play, and Tim Hulett's leadoff double in the fifth.
"I felt as good today as I have in a long time," McGregor said. "I didn't throw a whole lot of curve balls, but the ones I did were good. The changeup was better and my fast ball had more pop on it."
Chicago's big three -- Harold Baines (.290, 57 RBI), Carlton Fisk (26 homers, 64 RBI) and Greg Walker (15 homers, 58 RBI) -- went zero for 11.
The game's most exciting moment came in the first inning when Burns hit Lee Lacy in the left forearm, missing his face only because Lacy raised his arm in time. Players from both teams stood poised on the top dugout steps ready for a brawl as Lacy and Burns shouted at each other. Lacy, the league's fourth-leading hitter, said he was convinced that Burns threw at him because he had been hitting too many line drives in the series.
Lacy reached base twice, as did Wiggins, who went nine for 18 in the series to raise his batting average to .257.
"Certainly, if we keep pitching the way we are, it'll mean great things for the future," McGregor said.
The future for the Orioles begins Monday night in Memorial Stadium.