BOSTON – Chris Davis hit his way into the Orioles record books Tuesday night with his 51st home run of the season — a ball that caught the chilly New England air and suddenly took off, much like his breakout 2013 season — setting a new single-season power standard in a franchise history that spans six decades.
The sixth-inning solo blast, the tying run in the Orioles' eventual 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox, moved the 27-year-old Davis past Brady Anderson's mark set in 1996.
More important was the win, which came in front of an announced 35,030 at Fenway Park in a key game over a sizzling Red Sox team.
With just 12 games left, the Orioles (80-70) remained two games back of both American League wild-card spots, which are held by Tampa Bay and Texas, both 82-68, after the Rangers' 7-1 win over the Rays.
“It is [complex] for everybody else, but it's not for simple-minded people like myself and our team who just say, ‘We've got a game tonight, let's win and let's see where it takes us,'“ Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I don't even know who won or lost tonight. It doesn't matter. We have to take care of business. It doesn't matter if we don't. The only thing is if you lose, you hope they do. If you sit there and try to dwell on any one team, you've got to dwell on yourself.”
The O's won on Tuesday night despite their usually sound defense committing a season-high three errors and starting pitcher Scott Feldman issuing a season-high six walks over an abbreviated five-inning start. It was also the Orioles' fourth win in their past 18 one-run games dating back to the all-star break.
The Orioles had been held to two hits over the first five innings by Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster before Davis crushed a 2-1 slider to the furthest part of Fenway Park and into the center-field stands for his record-breaking homer, tying the game at 2.
After the game, Anderson — currently an Orioles front office executive — made a surprise visit to the clubhouse and gave Davis a congratulatory hug.
“To be honest with you, I took a deep breath when I hit 50, just to be tied with him, and in the same conversation,” said Davis, who was able to recover the historic 51st home run ball from a Red Sox fan in exchange for an autographed ball. “I think the biggest thing for me is to go out there and have quality at-bats and do what I can to help the team win.”
Davis struck out against Dempster in his previous two at-bats Tuesday and was 2-for-13 with eight strikeouts against Dempster in his career heading into the at-bat.
“He was throwing quality pitches my first two at-bats,” Davis said. “I went back and looked at them, and he was throwing good strikes, and sometimes you've got to tip your hat sometimes when a guy's got good stuff, but I was able to look for one out over the plate. It actually wasn't a bad pitch; it was down. I was just able to get the barrel on it.”
With the score still tied at 2 in the top of the ninth, designated hitter Danny Valencia hit a leadoff triple off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who had retired his previous 37 hitters, a franchise record. Matt Wieters, the next batter, hit a sacrifice fly to right ended the former Oriole's streak of 30 1/3 scoreless innings.
Valencia, who laced the hit just over the outstretched glove of Shane Victorino in center, is hitting .405 (15-for-37) in September after reaching base three times Tuesday (1-for-2 with two walks). Valencia, who had been primarily used only against left-handed pitching, has become the team's everyday DH.
“Sometimes, it's an opportunity that they need, and he's run with it,” Showalter said. “He's got some good matchups and he's not trying to do too much. … It's that time of year when you ride the hot hand.”
Despite allowing a one-out hit in the ninth, Jim Johnson recorded his 46th save of the season, capping four scoreless innings by the bullpen. With the game tied and perhaps the season on the line, the Orioles received shutout innings from rookies T.J. McFarland in the sixth and Kevin Gausman in the seventh.
“This is who we are,” Showalter said. “Gausman, who was at LSU last year and McFarland, who was a Rule 5 pick, against the Red Sox trying to get into the playoffs.”
Feldman struggled with his control throughout the night. But despite issuing six walks, including four with two outs, he allowed just two runs — one earned — on two hits through five innings.
“I'm thinking that I was pretty fortunate,” Feldman said. “Usually when you walk that many guys, things don't usually go in your favor. It was one of those nights where I felt like maybe the baseball gods were on our side tonight. We've had some tough games over the course of the year, and the name of the game is that we won. We'll take them any way we can get them.”
Five pitches into the game, Feldman allowed a homer to Red Sox leadoff hitter Dustin Pedroia over the Green Monster in left field. In the fourth inning, he was hurt by a pair of errors that led to an unearned run.
Machado — playing in shallow right field on a shift against Jarrod Saltalamacchia — charged the ball but couldn't come up with it.
After Feldman walked No. 8 hitter Stephen Drew, the Red Sox executed a successful double steal. Even though Wieters' throw to third beat Saltalamacchia, third base umpire Tim Timmons ruled that Machado missed the tag. Xander Bogaerts hit a fly ball that skipped off the glove of left fielder Nate McLouth for his first error of the year, allowing Saltalamacchia to score and giving Boston a 2-1 lead.
The Orioles — who entered the night with 113 errorless games this season, tying the 2008 Houston Astros for most since 1900 — committed their first three-error game since June 27, 2012, against the Los Angeles Angels.
Trailing 2-0 in the fifth, the Orioles took advantage of a leadoff walk to Valencia, who scored on a groundout by Brian Roberts after he was moved to third on J.J. Hardy's one-out double off the Green Monster. Davis' history-making shot the next inning tied the game.
After the game, Davis relished the win more than writing his place in the Orioles record books.
“They're playing good baseball right now, and we knew we had our work cut out for us when we came in here,” Davis said of the Red Sox. “We still got two games left against these guys here, and they come to our place. We've got a lot of baseball left.
“This time of year, you've just got to grind it out, go for the next nine innings. These games are important. Obviously, these will make or break us.”