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Stoetzer: Angry Orioles fans look no further than Chris Davis

Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis strikes out in the fifth inning during the home opener April 4, 2019 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis strikes out in the fifth inning during the home opener April 4, 2019 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

A fan sitting behind home plate Thursday stuck out with a bright orange T-shirt with the words “Who’s On First” across his shoulders, and a question mark in place of a number.

Maybe the guy was wearing it to poke a little fun at the Orioles, whose lineup won’t be confused with “Murderers’ Row” anytime soon. It’s going to take some time to get everyone’s name down pat.

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But even the most casual of fans know who’s on first — Chris Davis, the team’s $161 million man, the owner of the biggest contract in franchise history, and now the man who in one week’s time has been pinch-hit for by Renato Nunez and Hanser Alberto.

Chris Davis, who four years ago led the major leagues in home runs, and two years before that finished third in the American League MVP voting, is now public enemy No. 1 for this team’s entire fan base.

“Crush” had a bad year in 2018. Check that — one of the worst of all-time. He hit .168 in 128 games, the lowest average in history for anyone with enough plate appearances to quality for a batting title.

From thousands of empty seats at Camden Yards to boos for struggling first basemen Chris Davis, there were plenty of reminders of the Orioles' 2018 futility at the team's 2019 home opener. But the fans who showed up said they were encouraged by the rebuilding club's energy and winning start.

He also had 192 strikeouts. Not too close to his high watermark of 219, which he reached in 2016. But plenty of whiffs nonetheless.

Davis closed out the year going hitless in his final 21 at-bats. And despite struggling in this spring, he was due for a better start in 2019 — a start that should feel warranted with Davis being the face of a club filled with relative unknowns and young players.

Davis came into Thursday’s home opener against the Yankees without a hit this season, 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts. The boos didn’t really rain down until Davis was called out on strikes for the first out of the fourth inning. But when he struck out again in the sixth, his third of the game, Camden Yards’ denizens let him know how they felt.

It has come to this.

Davis is the source of Orioles fans’ frustrations no matter what the team does this year. If they win 50 games, which would be an improvement from 2018, it won’t make anyone more angry than watching Davis continue to swing and miss.

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He’s very good at it, at least.

Davis once hit 53 home runs, drove in 138 runs, and ended the season with a .286 average. The homers and RBIs led all of baseball, as did 370 total bases. It was 2013. Davis was an All-Star. And a Silver Slugger.

What the fans wouldn’t give for a broken-bat flare into shallow right field these days.

Many of them were begging Davis in the sixth to slap the ball against the Yankees’ shift and into left for a hit — his first hit of the year! — with a runner on first and the Orioles trailing 5-4. It didn’t happen.

Davis whiffed, absorbed a chorus of disdain, lowered his head, and retreated to the dugout. His turn came up again in the eighth, but manager Brandon Hyde went with Alberto instead to face lefty reliever Zack Britton.

Hyde could at least explain it away by saying he’d rather have a right-handed hitter to face Britton at that point, but who’d buy it?

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The Orioles did so much that defined what made them successful on the road in their home opener Thursday at Camden Yards, but the shaky bullpen didn't execute its part in an 8-4 loss to the New York Yankees.

It didn’t help Davis’ case when Alberto laced a base hit into right. No chance Hanser Alberto has heard a louder ovation in his career.

The cheers seemed more in spite of Davis — anyone but Davis, at this point — which is sad considering the Orioles won four of their first six games and had many people feeling better about the 2019 predictions.

The angry Orioles fan wants to take it all out on Davis, the highest paid player on the team who seems to be a totally different person than he was four years ago. Davis hasn’t gotten a hit since September, but he’s not wallowing.

“I don’t think anybody’s feeling sorry for me right now,” he told reporters after the game. “I think people are ready to see me turn it around and I’m ready to turn it around.”

Long after the game ended, the Yankees having enjoyed an 8-4 victory and rallied from a 4-2 deficit, Davis stood in the grass behind the plate, still wearing his uniform, taking family photos with his wife and three young children.

He gave one of the fans remaining in the lower box seats a wave before lowering his head and retreating into the dugout.

Out of sight. Who knows for how long.

2019 Baltimore Orioles home opener against the New York Yankees.
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