CHICAGO (AP) — Nick Markakis preserved the lead on defense and then enlarged it at the plate.
The right fielder hit a two-run homer after preventing one with a leaping catch, sending the Baltimore Orioles to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
While offense usually is the focus, Markakis didn’t hesitate when asked which moment felt better.
“Robbing a two-run homer,” he said, “especially in that situation.”
Nelson Cruz and J.J. Hardy each added a solo shot as the Orioles upped their AL East lead to 7½ games over the idle New York Yankees.
Cruz hit his 32nd homer, passing White Sox rookie Jose Abreu for the American League lead. Cruz is tied with Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins for most in the majors.
Markakis was 3 for 5 with two RBIs and two runs, but everyone in the Baltimore locker room was talking about his clutch catch.
“That was big,” manager Buck Showalter said. “The score won’t look like it, but obviously it was a big play.”
The Orioles entered the bottom of the seventh with a 3-0 lead after starter Bud Norris (11-7) retired 17 of his first 18 batters.
But he quickly found himself in trouble in the seventh after hitting Alejandro De Aza with a pitch and giving up a double to Alexei Ramirez that put runners on second and third with the heart of the Chicago lineup coming up.
Abreu flied out to shallow center and Adam Dunn struck out. It appeared Norris might escape with his shutout intact, but Avisail Garcia’s two-run single made it 3-2.
Conor Gillaspie followed with a drive to deep right field, where Markakis raced back to the fence and made a leaping grab.
“I thought I had a shot at it all the way,” he said. “I was going after it. I was doing everything I can to catch it, with the situation of the game and the way Bud was pitching.
“It helped us out tremendously and kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit.”
The Orioles then broke it open with a five-run eighth. Jonathan Schoop doubled in three runs and Markakis hit a two-run homer to cap the rally.
Chicago ace Chris Sale (10-3) took the loss, yielding three runs and eight hits in six innings. He has dropped two straight decisions.
The Orioles are the only AL team he hasn’t beaten in his career.
“We were a great outfielder away from potentially winning that game,” Sale said.
Orioles: 3B Manny Machado will miss at least another week with a sprained right knee he sustained while taking a swing last Monday. There’s no timetable for his return. Machado didn’t play this season until May 1 because of surgery on his left knee in the offseason.
White Sox: CF Adam Eaton (strained right oblique) continues to make progress and the hope is he’ll be ready to return when he’s eligible to be activated from the 15-day disabled list Sunday. Eaton, though, is likely to go to the minors for a rehab stint before then.
In the second game of the series Tuesday night, Orioles RHP Chris Tillman (9-5, 3.68 ERA) faces LHP Jose Quintana (6-9, 3.14).
Adam Dunn’s four-year, $40 million contract is up at the end of this season and the White Sox slugger hinted Monday there is a possibility he could retire.
Dunn, who turns 35 in November, has 459 homers and could move way up the career list by sticking around a few more years (he’s just three from tying Jose Canseco for 34th place). But he said numbers, even the possibility of hitting 500 homers, won’t be a determining factor.
“It’s going to be a decision where I’m going to sit down with the people who are important to me and make a quick decision,” Dunn said. “Whether it’s tomorrow (or) whether it’s February, I don’t know.”
RHP Miguel Gonzalez, sent to the minors Aug. 9, is expected to be back with the Orioles this weekend to start against the Cubs. Gonzalez threw a simulated game in the minors Monday — Double-A Bowie had the day off — to prepare for the potential assignment.