CHICAGO -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter stood on the mound at U.S. Cellular Field in the sixth inning -- with the bases loaded and no outs -- and handed the baseball to oft-maligned reliever Michael Gonzalez with these reassuring words, "Hey, you got nothing to lose."
And by the time an emphatic Gonzalez walked off the hill six outs later -- four of which came via strikeout -- the left-handed reliever could only speak of the gain. Lifted by a huge two-inning outing from Gonzalez, the Orioles -- who continued to be sparked by red-hot Robert Andino -- used a four-run eighth inning to sink Chicago, 6-2, on Saturday night.
The win guaranteed the Orioles (12-13) at least a split of the four-game series and ended April with their most wins since 2007. Perhaps more importantly, it saw Gonzalez, who has been struggling mightily, get back to the form that convinced the Orioles to sign him to a two-year, $12 million deal last winter.
"He talked to me about going back to his old ways and having that confidence and swagger," Brian Roberts said of Gonzalez, who entered Saturday's game with a 13.50 ERA. "He seems to have that back, hopefully. We could really use him. He's a huge part of that bullpen."
Gonzalez had been charged with at least one earned run in his past four games and has been the subject of fan ire, frequently exiting to boos at home for poor performance and lack of control. Neither were evident Saturday, as Gonzalez turned in his best outing of the season, with two scoreless innings to bail out starter Chris Tillman.
With the bases loaded, Gonzalez sent left-handed hitter Adam Dunn down looking at strike three and got Alex Rios on a sacrifice fly. Center fielder Adam Jones' pinpoint throw to home plate would have caught Alexei Ramirez, if backup catcher Jake Fox hadn't bobbled the ball. Instead, Ramirez scored and the White Sox inning was kept alive. Gonzalez didn't miss a beat, striking out A.J. Pierzynski on a 95-mph fastball to keep the Orioles' one-run lead intact.
"Seriously, since I got here to Baltimore, I hadn't felt this good," said Gonzalez, who went back to incorporating his trademark rocking motion on the mound. "And by that, I mean, mentally and rhythm-wise. I hadn't felt this good since Atlanta [in 2009]. So I'm definitely going to feed off of this."
Gonzalez came back on for the seventh and struck out Mark Teahen and Gordon Beckham, using a fastball that topped out at 96 mph. He then got Juan Pierre to ground out to cap an electric outing that charged up the entire Orioles dugout.
"He's one of the more popular teammates, everybody pulls for him," Showalter said of Gonzalez, who was limited to just 29 appearances last season due to a left shoulder strain. "I think they fed off his success as much as he did. I talk to them all the time about staying together. People don't necessarily understand the reality of going through it with each other. Our guys have really been pulling for Gonzo, because nobody likes to see a quality teammate have some of the challenges that he's had."
Gonzalez may have been the star of Saturday's win, but it was Andino who helped change the game's momentum in the early innings. Having won one of the club's final spring roster spots, Andino, playing in lieu of injured shortstop J.J. Hardy, continued what has been an impressive campaign on both sides of the ball. He hit his first homer in the third inning, sending White Sox starter Phil Humber's pitch 369 feet for a solo shot to left field. Andino then bailed out Tillman in a big spot in the fourth, saving a run with a diving stop up the middle to start a double play, and scored a key add-on run with some nice hustle in the eighth.
"We needed somebody to step in [for Hardy] and play at a high level, and he's really done that," Roberts said of Andino, who was designated for assignment by the Orioles last spring and is now hitting .348 in 16 games.
"He's battled through a couple of organizations. Some people thought he was kind of on the outs. He's a great teammate, he's a great guy to be around, he's had fun and now he's playing great."
Andino opened the eighth with a single, stole second and scored on Roberts' swinging strikeout on a passed ball. Pierzynski let the ball scoot by him and couldn't come up with the throw to first in time, and a hustling Andino was able to go all the way around to score.
"I almost made up my mind when I came around third," Andino said. "Once I saw that bill hit the dirt, I just took off."
Vladimir Guerrero added a two-run single to help put the game out of reach and give Tillman his first victory of the season. Tillman, whose last start was April 18 because of a rainout and the team's cautiousness with his right groin soreness, was charged with one run on six hits over five-plus innings.
"There's a lot of things I need to get better on," Tillman said in evaluating his performance. "I threw strikes with my offspeed pitches. I felt like I should have gone [offspeed] a little more tonight. [The strike zone] was a battle, but at the same time, when you are not necessarily hitting your spots, it's kind of tough to get those calls."
"[He was] pretty good," Showalter said of Tillman. "It was a challenge for him and I liked the way he handled it."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.