BALTIMORE -- Go back one month or maybe even just two weeks in this confounding 2011 season for the White Sox, and put Ozzie Guillen's crew in the same late-inning situation they were in during Monday's 7-6 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Even against a team with one of the worst records in baseball, the White Sox still probably don't rally to win that contest. But by tying a season high with four straight victories and moving to within five games of the idle American League Central-leading Tigers, the White Sox (56-58) suddenly are playing with a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm.
"Right now, they're on a roll," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team improved to 4-0 on this seven-game road trip. "Maybe because we got our butts kicked so bad by New York it was a wake-up call and we knew we're better than that. Hopefully, that's the motivation for them."
"We have a team full of veteran guys who have been around," said White Sox starter John Danks, who finished with a no-decision after working 6 1/3 innings in the series opener. "This group is pretty good at putting last night's game behind them and moving on when we're winning and when we're losing."
Nowhere is this confidence more evident than in center fielder Alex Rios. The five-tool talent, who fell just short of becoming the franchise's first 30-stolen base, 30-homer player in 2010, has struggled mightily all season. Actually, struggled might be a bit tame in describing the trouble faced by the laid-back veteran through the first four months.
In these last four victories, though, Rios has gone 7-for-13 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Rios drove in the game-winning run off reliever Jim Johnson (5-4) with two outs in the eighth, as his hard grounder eluded third baseman Josh Bell, who seemed to dive over the ball, and scored Carlos Quentin from second.
Rios also doubled and picked up his 10th stolen base.
"I'm happy for him," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Rios. "He's got all the tools in the world and I love Alex. I really hope that he can keep going. We saw last year he can be a special player for this team. We need him to do that here for the last 50 or so games."
Quentin's run was the second scored in the eighth and quickly erased J.J. Hardy's three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Orioles a brief but still stunning 6-5 advantage. Hardy connected off Jesse Crain (6-3), who eventually earned the victory.
Paul Konerko started the eighth-inning rally by drawing a one-out walk, and pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge raced to third when Quentin dropped a single in front of center fielder Adam Jones. Pierzynski, who homered during a four-run second off Jeremy Guthrie and singled home a run in the sixth, launched a sacrifice fly to center to tie the game, and Jones' misguided throw allowed Quentin to move into scoring position.
"The Konerko walk changed the whole dynamic," Johnson said. "I just didn't make a good pitch at the right time. I look at the pitch to Pierzynski, I pulled it all the way on the wrong side, so if I execute that, I still have a chance. Two outs and nobody in."
"Maybe guys get big at-bats, big hits," Guillen said. "I think Rios with that hit with two outs was huge. We are swinging the bat pretty good as a group right now. I said it a month ago. If we don't hit, we're not going anywhere. If we hit a little bit, we're going to compete."
A four-run, second-inning lead, courtesy of home runs by Pierzynski and Gordon Beckham and an RBI single by Adam Dunn, against a pitcher with 15 losses seemed to put the White Sox well on their way to a fourth straight victory. But the White Sox scored just one run between the third and seventh innings, and the Orioles (44-68) chipped away at the advantage.
With runners on first and second, one out and the White Sox clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, Pierzynski reached into the Orioles dugout to snag Robert Andino's foul popup and help bail Crain out of trouble. Matt Thornton replaced Crain and induced Bell's inning-ending groundout, leading to a perfect ninth from Sergio Santos (23rd save), who struck out Hardy, Nick Markakis and Jones.
"Their bullpen at the end is really tough," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter of the White Sox. "They have a lot of weapons down there. Santos is having about as good a statistical year as you're going to see from a guy."
A victory on Tuesday would give the White Sox their first five-game winning streak of the season and continue this improbable chase of the Indians and the Tigers. Just six games ago, the Yankees were wrapping up a four-game home knockout of the White Sox, and the only place they looked to be going was to make October tee times.
Now, the White Sox have themselves at least in position to make September meaningful. Taking a few more from the Orioles can make the situation more interesting and build on that growing confidence.
"As cliché as it sounds, we really do try to take it one game at a time," said Danks, who allowed four earned runs, while fanning seven. "And we're playing good baseball right now."
"Any time you get good pitching, it gives you a chance," Pierzynski said. "We got some timely hits and it gives everyone energy and makes everyone excited."