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BAL@CWS: Rookie Britton improves to 5-1 for the Birds

CHICAGO -- Slowly but surely, the Orioles are showing signs of coming together.

After closing April with their most victories since 2007, Baltimore took another step forward with Sunday's 6-4 series-clinching win over the White Sox, recording its fifth "W" in six games and bringing the Orioles record (13-13) back to .500 for the first time since April 15.

Buoyed by Nick Markakis' bases-clearing fifth-inning double, the Orioles tagged Baltimore native Gavin Floyd with the most earned runs he's allowed to his hometown team, handing a scuffling White Sox squad their fifth consecutive defeat.

Sunday's victory also improves rookie phenom Zach Britton -- who threw six innings of one-run baseball -- to a team-leading 5-1 record in six career starts.

"You're seeing, and you saw it before, how good this team is now when the offense is going," said closer Kevin Gregg, who picked up his fifth save in six opportunities. "When they are getting the timely hitting early in the game, it allows our starters -- our young starters -- to be a lot more comfortable out there. And I think that's huge for us."

Gregg, who is well known for his high-wire acts in the ninth, didn't put the Orioles at ease until he recorded the 27th out. Staked to a two-run lead in the ninth inning, Gregg brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate after a five-pitch walk to Alexei Ramirez and a single by Carlos Quentin.

"Definitely not the situation I wanted to be in," Gregg said. "With two guys on, nobody out, that part of the order is not a big like, 'Woo hoo, this is what I want to do.' But I had to execute my pitches, and trust that I can execute those pitches in those situations."

Gregg struck out Paul Konerko and sent Alex Rios down looking at strike three -- earning Rios his third career ejection for arguing the call with home-plate umpire Cory Blaser. He got A.J. Pierzynski to ground out to end the game and give the Orioles an impressive 3-0 start to a seven-game, two-city road trip.

"Our hitting is going to come around," said Markakis, who collected his first extra-base hit since April 14 and snapped an 0-for-16 stretch with runners in scoring position with his clutch fifth-inning double.

After Luke Scott's solo homer in the fourth, Mark Reynolds started a five-run frame off Floyd with a leadoff homer in the fifth. Felix Pie -- making his first start since April 17 -- tripled to center field for his second hit in as many tries, and Robert Andino and Brian Roberts each worked a walk off Floyd to load the bases for Markakis.

"That tells you his mental toughness," manager Buck Showalter said of Markakis' double, which came after he hit a deep fly ball into the wind on Saturday night and was robbed of a base hit to left field, which Juan Pierre cradled in what was ruled as a catch.

"[Markakis] told me, 'I'm going to church again [Monday],'" Showalter said. "He said, 'Can I go three times in one day?' Nicky is mentally tough. He knows the confidence that we have in him. I thought, obviously, the double was one of the keys to the game."

So was Scott, who added another RBI with a two-out base hit to score Markakis and raise his average to .391 over the last seven games.

"When he's hot, I think he's the best hitter in baseball," Markakis said of Scott, who has three homers and six RBIs over that week-long stretch.

"We just felt like that [Floyd] was in a pattern there. He went away from his fastball," Markakis added. "He threw a lot of cutters, sliders and curveballs. We could just go up there and kind of sit on an offspeed pitch. The more pitches you can eliminate, the easier it is to hit."

Britton wasn't particularly crisp, either. But he got the big outs when necessary and left an inning early, due to a callus that he had removed from the middle finger of his pitching hand.

"It's not a huge deal," Britton said of the callus, which came from his sinker grip rubbing up against the baseball's seams.

"It's a unique grip anyway, so it kind of gives me a pretty good callus every now and again. Kind of what happened again [on Sunday]."

The 23-year-old Britton's only blemish was grooving an 0-2 pitch to Brent Lillibridge for a homer in the fifth, and he was charged with one run on five hits and three walks, while striking out one in the 96-pitch outing.

"[Pitching coach Mark Connor] made me aware of it in the fourth," Showalter said of Britton's callus. "It wasn't sore or anything. It's just something that he seemed to be concerned with."

Reliever Jason Berken replaced Britton to start the seventh and recorded just one out -- surrendering a leadoff double and a pair of walks -- before exiting in favor of Jim Johnson with the middle of the White Sox order due up. Johnson retired Quentin on a popup and, after Konerko's RBI walk, he retired Rios on a first-pitch groundout to escape the jam with minimal damage. Johnson wasn't as lucky in the eighth, as a two-out walk to No. 9 batter Gordon Beckham led to a pinch-hit home run by Adam Dunn, cutting the Orioles' lead in half, before Gregg shut the door.

"We have to come out [on Monday] and work for that last win," Markakis said. "And pack it up and head over to Kansas City, and continue what we're doing."

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