By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
12:05 AM EDT, September 14, 2013
TORONTO -- As his chase of the Orioles' single-season home run mark intensified, it seemed like first baseman Chris Davis' bigger focus was doing his best to deflect the attention away from himself and toward his club's chase of a playoff berth.
And when Davis swatted his 50th homer of the season — tying Brady Anderson's franchise record set in 1996 — the historic blast came at a perfect time, breaking a late-inning tie in sending the Orioles to a much-needed 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays before an announced 20,024 Friday night at Rogers Centre.
Like so many of Davis' homers, he took a good pitch — Toronto reliever Steve Delabar threw a 2-2 split-finger fastball on target low and away — got the barrel of his bat out and used his power to put ball into the seats in left-center. The homer gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead, as they erased an early three-run deficit and kept their playoff hopes afloat with 15 games left in the regular season.
With the win, the Orioles (78-69) snapped a three-game losing streak — they dropped a trio of gut-wrenching games to the New York Yankees at home — and kept pace in the American League wild-card race. They remain 2 ½ games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot.
“I've said it all along, it's nice to have personal goals and to reach your own goals, but when the team is winning that's what makes it that much sweeter,” Davis said. “We've really battled the last couple of days. I think we had a couple of games where we were in them and we were able to seal the deal, but tonight it was big to come from behind and get the win.”
Davis' milestone homer broke a second-place tie on the franchise list with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who hit 49 in his AL Triple Crown year in 1966.
Anderson's 50th homer also came in Toronto.
“He was grinding like heck to drive in that last one on a line drive to left [in the ninth],” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That's why everyone pulls so hard for him, he's such a good teammate and so humble about the good things that have happened to him and with him. He's just an easy guy to pull for.”
In the past 10 years, only six other big leaguers have reached 50 homers in a season: Andruw Jones (51 in 2005), Ryan Howard (58 in 2006), David Ortiz (54 in 2006), Alex Rodriguez (54 in 2007), Prince Fielder (50 in 2007) and Jose Bautista (54 in 2010). Davis became the 27th player to do it all-time.
Davis is also just the third player in major league history to have 50 homers and 40 doubles in a season, joining Babe Ruth (1921) and Albert Belle (1995).
“It's ridiculous,” Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel said. He's in pretty rare company … especially the pitch he hit out [Friday]. A lot of people don't go back and really understand what he did with that pitch. It was a good pitch by Delabar, but he just hit the bottom of the ball and he's so strong that he back-spinned it enough to get it out. … He's been doing it all year.”
No team has been victimized by Davis' power more than the Blue Jays (67-80). His homer Friday night was his 16th against Toronto since the beginning of the 2012 season, and his seven homers this year tie teammate Adam Jones for most this season against the Jays.
After hitting his homer, Davis was greeted with a handshake from hitting coach Jim Presley and high-fives and fist bumps from his teammates.
“It was good. I think it was more about putting us on top right there,” Davis said. “It was a big point in the game where we needed to get the momentum back, and it gave us a jolt right there. And to get another run on top of that was huge.
“The first thing I thought when it went out was, thanks goodness we got the lead back. This is a long road trip and obviously very crucial games. To start off with a win is huge.”
The Orioles added an insurance run later in the eighth on Danny Valencia's two-out RBI single.
Early on, the Orioles sputtered against Toronto starter Todd Redmond, who was designated for assignment by the Orioles in March after posting a 5.63 ERA during spring training. The right-hander turned in the best start of his major league career against his former team.
The 28-year-old Redmond held the Orioles to three hits over a career-high 6 1/3 innings. He left the game with a 3-0 lead and struck out seven, but the Orioles rallied for three runs in the seventh.
Hammel, who was making his first start since July 28, faced the minimum number of batters over 4 2/3 innings before allowing homers to Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus. Hammel had been a relief option since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 5 but made Friday's start in place of right-hander Bud Norris, who missed his turn with elbow tightness.
In a scoreless game, Hammel paid for a two-out walk to Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth as Lind blasted the next pitch, an 86-mph changeup, into the right-field stands for a two-run homer, his 20th of the season. Rasmus then led off the top of the fifth with his 19th homer of the season on a 2-2 fastball, giving the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.
Hammel, kept on a pitch count, allowed just three hits over five innings before exiting after 62 pitches.
“When I’m healthy I can throw the slider and that was a big pitch for me, being able to throw the slider for a strike and throw it to strike somebody out too,” Hammel said. “In the middle of the year, I couldn’t do that. It was either going to be a strike or something that hung. I’m healthy. I feel good. I still feel like my arm can get stronger.”
The Orioles rallied from a three-run deficit in the seventh against the Toronto's bullpen. After Redmond left the game with one out in the inning following a leadoff double by Jones, J.J. Hardy got the Orioles on the scoreboard with a double off the left-field wall against reliever Dustin McGowan.
Following a walk to Ryan Flaherty, catcher Steve Clevenger — a Baltimore native and Mount St. Joseph grad making his first start with the Orioles — tied the game with a two-run double that took a high bounce on the turf and skipped over right fielder Moises Sierra's head.
In a tie game, reliever Tommy Hunter (5-4) escaped a one-out, first-and-third jam in the seventh by striking out Sierra and Arencibia. Despite allowing a leadoff single in the ninth, closer Jim Johnson recorded his 44th save of the season with a scoreless inning.
After the game, Davis was given his home run ball by Ellicott City resident Steve Houff, who said he paid a Blue Jays fan $100 for the ball. Davis signed one of his bats for Houff, as well as an autographed ball. Four of Houff's friends, all from Maryland, also received autographed balls.
“We're here the whole weekend,” Houff said. “Hopefully, we will catch 51 tomorrow.”
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