For the first four games of this season, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis had been on a historic offensive run, one that put him on the precipice of doing something no other big league ballplayer had ever done.
But baseball, the cruel mistress, doesn’t take kindly to someone making the game look so ridiculously easy.
So on Saturday night, baseball struck back at Davis.
He not only failed to homer for what would have been a historic fifth consecutive game to start a season, but he made a key error in the ninth inning that led to the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
With one out and the game tied at 5-5, Twins leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks hit a routine grounder to Davis, who simply couldn’t make the play.
“They scored a run. An unearned run. Somebody made an error, I don't know,” Davis dead-panned after the game. “I mean, I went back and looked at it (on a TV replay). My glove was down. My head was down. And the ball went right between my legs.”
Three batters later, Justin Morneau laced a two-out single up the middle against Jim Johnson (0-1) to score Hicks and, ultimately, win the game.
Minnesota’s closer Glen Perkins picked up his first save of the season with a scoreless ninth, setting up a rubber match with the Twins on Sunday at Camden Yards.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn’t going to put the loss on Davis’ glove. That’s not his style – and definitely not with the way Davis’ scorching bat has carried the Orioles (3-2) so far.
“Chris knows how we feel about him and he has done a great job at first base for us since the first day in spring,” Showalter said. “He’s been an asset for us there like he has been offensively.”
Well maybe not quite. Because Davis had been on an otherworldly tear at the plate. He had homered in his first four games to start this year – one of only four to accomplish that feat. None has done it five straight to begin a season.
He had to settle for a broken-bat RBI single and walk in four plate appearances. The third-inning hit was his major-league-leading 17th RBI and sets him up for potentially tying a club record Sunday.
Brooks Robinson (1966) and Mike Devereaux (1994) are the only players in club history to kickstart a season by driving in runs in six consecutive games.
The Orioles have now scored five or more runs in each of their 2013 contests. This one, though, wasn’t exactly filled with offensive firepower. The Orioles scored on a 25-foot squibber, an error, a broken-bat blooper and a two-run single up the middle.
Adam Jones, who had two more hits, three RBIs and is batting .522, drove home Manny Machado and Nate McLouth in the fifth to tie the game.
Jones also had a RBI single in the first in one of the more bizarre plays of the young season. With Machado at third and Nick Markakis – who had four of the club’s 11 hits Saturday – at second, Jones tapped a slow roller about a third of the way down the third base line.
As Machado raced home, starter Vance Worley picked the ball up and tried to get Jones out at first, throwing wildly and allowing Markakis to charge home from second base on the error.
The announced crowd of 40,704 rose to its feet as Jones’ accidental hit gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
The offense bailed out right-hander Chris Tillman, who came off the disabled list Saturday to start against the Twins (3-2).
Bothered by abdomen soreness, Tillman hadn’t faced major leaguer hitters since a Grapefruit League game on March 3. His last outing was against the State College of Florida on March 29. Earlier this week, Tillman said he had no pain at all in the abdomen, and said he just wanted to get back against real competition.
It wasn’t what he had been hoping for: five runs allowed in just 3 2/3 innings pitched. He permitted five or more earned runs only once in 15 starts last season, when he was 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
“It’s tough, but I’ve got another (start) in five days. That’s the only way to look at it,” Tillman said. “The downtime felt like an eternity. I feel like I want to pitch tomorrow’s game."
Tillman’s evening started out perfectly Saturday. He threw just 13 pitches in the first, striking out two including former batting champ Joe Mauer. By the second, though, Tillman’s command began to abandon him. He had to throw 27 pitches in that inning, twice loading the bases but allowing just one run on a sacrifice fly.
Things unraveled in the third when Tillman allowed four runs, two coming off Chris Parmalee’s first homer of the season. Parmalee’s blast one-hopped the flag court fencing above the right field scoreboard. He was lifted with two outs in the fourth after throwing an inefficient 93 pitches, and only 55 for strikes.
“I felt good throughout the game. Physically I felt really good, mechanically I felt like I was fine,” Tillman said. “All game long, I was kind of yanking, yanking my fastball and my changeup. Made some good pitches with my changeup but I threw it to the wrong part of the plate.”
The Orioles did receive an impressive pitching performance on Saturday that lasted nearly as long as Tillman’s.
T.J. McFarland, a 23-year-old lefty that the Orioles selected from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft this winter, made his big league debut in relief of Tillman.
And it was one to remember.
McFarland, who must stay on the Orioles’ 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Indians at half the purchase price, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit and struck out five batters.
“It was an incredible feeling. Nothing beats it,” McFarland said. “The adrenaline, the excitement, I really can’t even put into words. It really is just the best feeling you could ever feel.”
McFarland entered the game in the fourth with two on and two out, and had to face Morneau, a former AL MVP. And it took the rookie one pitch to get Morneau to fly out and end the inning.
“I don’t think I will ever forget that at-bat,” McFarland said. “First-pitch out, too, which is real nice. I’m not going to forget that out.”