PITTSBURGH -- Before Orioles slugger Chris Davis left for PNC Park on Tuesday, he made a proclamation to his wife.
Davis was giving himself a mulligan for the first seven weeks of the season.
“I told Jill, I’m just going to start over. I’m going to start the season over today,” Davis said. “And that’s kind of what I did.”
After striking out in the first and hitting a single in the fourth, Davis’ 2014 officially began again with a flourish -- three home runs in his next three at-bats against three different pitchers as the Orioles battered the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-2, before an announced 22,787.
The power output matched Davis’ total for home runs through his previous 106 at-bats this season. He didn’t achieve the three-homer milestone at all in 2013 -- when he led the majors with 53 -- and had done it just one other time in his career: Aug. 24, 2012 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
That’s also the last time any Orioles player hit three home runs in a game. Davis now has four in his past four games after hitting two in his first 27.
“He certainly has the respect of everybody, and I think it's obvious because of how he plays the game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Davis.
The Orioles (23-20) now have scored six runs or more in consecutive games for just the second time this season. The other was April 23 and 24, when they broke out for 21 runs in two games at Toronto before briefly slumping again. They’ve beaten the Pirates (18-26) in all three meetings this season by a combined score of 20-8.
Prior to Sunday’s 8-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles’ vaunted offense had scored three runs or fewer in 13 of its past 20 games. The hitters, including Davis, kept saying it was just a matter of time before they broke out.
“Absolutely. You can say what you want about the weather, whether it was cold, raining or whatever it was, but it usually takes the offense a little bit to get going,” said Davis, who missed 15 days in late April and early May with a left oblique strain. “Guys start getting comfortable in the box. Once you get 80 to 100 at-bats underneath your belt, you start to figure it out a little bit, and I think that’s the case with our team.”
The Orioles strung together 12 hits for the second consecutive game, but Davis went hitless in four at-bats (and was hit by pitch) Sunday, dropping his season average to .231. He saw just 13 total pitches in those five plate appearances and left Kansas City miffed.
“I felt like I had some good pitches to hit, and I rolled over everything and was really frustrated. So I got here early [Tuesday] and worked on some stuff in early BP,” Davis said. “Sometimes it just clicks for you, and today was one of those days.”
Davis said he felt like his hands and his lower body weren’t in sync, so he took the day off to mentally get away from the game, and came back to tweak his mechanics Tuesday afternoon.
“As you get more experience and mature, you start using off days for what they are. You get to step back and look at things through realistic eyes and realize the sky's not always falling,” Showalter said. “Chris wants to be -- they [all] want to be – perfect, and I think off days remind you that it's just impossible with this many talented players that you’re playing against.”
Trailing, 1-0, in the fourth, Davis scored the club’s first run on an RBI single by J.J. Hardy. Rookie catcher Caleb Joseph snapped the tie with a bases-loaded walk for the first RBI of his major league career.
The Orioles then broke it open with a four-run fifth.
Adam Jones, who had extended his 14-game hitting streak with a single in the first, hit a double to the left-center field gap. Third base coach Brian Graham sent Manny Machado from first base. Machado never stopped running and made a great slide to get his hand on the plate before the tag.
It was the second aggressive – and ultimately correct – send by Graham, the organization’s director of player development who was coaching third because Bobby Dickerson was attending his daughter’s high school graduation. Graham also sent Davis in the third on Hardy’s hit and the throw was off-line, allowing Davis to score easily.
“Brian did a great job. We knew he would,” Showalter said. “This isn't his first rodeo. He's been doing this for a long time.”
After Jones’ double, Davis hit an 87-mph slider from Liriano into the right-field seats. Two pitches later, Cruz hit a 92-mph sinker to center for his 13th home run this season. It was the second time Orioles hitters have homered consecutively this year (Davis and Matt Wieters on April 13). Cruz now trails only injured Chicago White Sox rookie Jose Abreu (15) for the American League home run lead.
Davis’ second homer came on a 92-mph sinker from Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes in the seventh. He then hit his final one against Jeanmar Gomez in the top of the ninth, on a 91-mph sinker, giving Davis a season-high five RBIs in the game and 20 for the year.
While Davis and the Orioles were knocking around the Pirates’ pitchers, Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (2-3) was mowing down Pittsburgh’s offense. Starting for the first time since May 10, when he allowed just two runs in seven innings against the Houston Astros, Gonzalez gave up two runs and seven hits in six-plus innings.
He allowed an RBI single to reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen in the second and then a solo homer to Ike Davis to lead off the seventh and end Gonzalez’s night.
Gonzalez struck out seven, tying a season high – not bad considering he was skipped in the rotation for rookie Kevin Gausman last Wednesday and had to pitch out of relief.
“I thought I felt a little over strong, but we got it done,” Gonzalez said. “I’m where I want to be now and especially against a team like this, they are going to come out hacking. It was fun to be out there.”
Gonzalez was replaced by a trio of Orioles late-inning relievers. Tommy Hunter, the displaced, closer, pitched a scoreless seventh, Zach Britton induced four outs in the eighth and ninth, and then Darren O’Day picked up the final two outs to end the game. Britton and O’Day hadn’t pitched since Thursday, and Hunter faced just one batter on Saturday.
“The big thing is I wanted to get all three of those guys on the mound tonight, regardless of what the score was,” Showalter said.
Davis made the situation comfortable for all of his teammates with the breakout game in his restarted 2014 – and he hopes it’ll be the beginning of another strong run for him.
“I think every guy is important in this lineup, 1 through 9,” Davis said. “But I know what my role is in the lineup, and it felt good to go out there tonight and kind of earn my paycheck, so to speak.”
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