BALTIMORE, JULY 22 -- A 12-game homestand -- and the combination of solid pitching, timely hitting and near-flawless defense -- was all the Baltimore Orioles, the hottest team in baseball, needed to climb back into the American League East pennant race.

With a 9-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox today at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles completed a four-game sweep -- their first at home this season -- and won their ninth game in their last 12 and 11th out of their last 14.Their 9-3 record since the all-star break is the best in the majors.

Randy Milligan had four hits -- including his 20th homer of the season -- and Pete Harnisch (9-5) pitched five strong innings to lead the Orioles (46-48) in front of a crowd of 34,818.

"We're doing things this ballclub has been capable of doing from Day One of the season," said Orioles Manager Frank Robinson. "We were due for a hot streak, and I hope this is it and I hope it continues."

The Orioles, who are two games below .500 for the first time since June 14, began the day in third place for the first time since June 13. They are currently 4 1/2 games behind division leader Toronto, a 3-0 loser today in Oakland, and four games in back of Boston, which lost tonight at Kansas City by 2-1.

The Orioles were nine games back at the all-star break just prior to the homestand, and were a season-high 11 1/2 back on June 28.

The Orioles got the most out of the home cooking, but hit the road for 16 of their next 23 games, beginning with a three-game series against Detroit starting Monday night.

Still, the homestand injected the Orioles with new life. They got pitching: Harnisch's win marked the seventh time in a row an Orioles starter has lasted through the fifth.

They got hitting: The Orioles pounded out 13 hits today, with homers by Milligan and Sam Horn.

And they got defense: Joe Orsulak's error in left field with two outs in the ninth inning was the Orioles' first in 10 games.

But more important, the Orioles are doing the little things necessary to win.

Case in point: Leading by 4-2 in the fifth inning with runners on first and second, Cal Ripken dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt -- something he hadn't tried since September 29, 1982. Both runners eventually scored.

"Whatever you're asked to do, you should try to do it," said Ripken. "When you do all the little things, then, collectively, the team plays very well."

Today's game, with its "manufactured runs," as Robinson said, drew comparisons to last year's squad, which spent 116 days in first place with the youngest team in baseball.

"Each game we seem to be coming together," said Ripken, who extended his major league-record errorless streaks to 91 games and 419 chances. "We're using sound fundamentals now, and we're finding a way to score runs -- a lot, like last year."

The Orioles are getting help from everyone.

Horn, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound bruiser of a designated hitter, knocked a 2-0 Melido Perez pitch over the right-center wall in the second inning for the Orioles' second run (Orsulak drove in Brady Anderson, who had singled, with a fly ball in the first). It was Horn's third homer in six games and his fourth in 10 games since returning from Rochester July 3.

Two outs later, Bill Ripken reached on shortstop Ozzie Guillen's second error this series. Anderson tripled Ripken home. It was Anderson's second clutch hit since coming off the disabled list Friday. In his first at-bat Friday night, he tripled home the tying run in the seventh inning of a game the Orioles went on to win, 3-2, in 10 innings.

Milligan's homer, which made it just inside the left field foul pole, came in the third and put him in fifth place in the league.

"I've come to expect games like this from Randy nowadays," said Robinson.

Harnisch breezed through the early innings, but ran into trouble in the fourth, when the White Sox got two runs back, their first runs since the first inning Friday night, 22 innings earlier.

With no outs Robin Ventura doubled home Lance Johnson, who had reached on a walk. After Ivan Calderon singled to right and Ventura held at third, Dan Pasqua brought Ventura home with a fly to the warning track in right, cutting the deficit to 4-2.

But the Orioles put the game away with three runs in the fifth -- one on a line-drive sacrifice to center by Craig Worthington and two on a triple to right by Bob Melvin.

The White Sox chased Harnisch with a Johnson single and a walk to Ventura with nobody out in the sixth. But Joe Price induced Calderon into a double play, and Curt Schilling got Carlton Fisk on a pop fly to right to end the inning.

Schilling provided 3 1/3 solid innings of relief, giving up four hits and one run, to earn his second major league save.