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Davis of old arrives in time for pennant drive Orioles don't need trade-in to acquire late-model hitter

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Imagine for a moment that the Orioles did the unimaginable and traded for Pittsburgh Pirates star Barry Bonds in early July. The move would have changed the balance of power in the American League East and rejuvenated the club's stagnant pennant drive.

Imagine the fanfare the acquisition of a player of that caliber would have generated.

Now, understand that something very similar happened with very little fanfare. The Orioles did add a front-line run-producer to the lineup -- one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball -- and they did it without changing the chemistry of the club or giving up any prospects.

The player's name is Glenn Davis.

"It's like we've acquired a new player," manager Johnny Oates said recently. "But we traded for a Barry Bonds-type player two years ago. It wasn't his fault that he got hurt. He's just now doing what he did in the National League. It doesn't surprise me one single bit."

Davis has just recently become a significant player in the Orioles' surprising run at the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. He spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season rebounding from another discouraging physical setback, but he has come back to be a major force in the club's midsummer resurgence.

He has hit safely in 30 of his past 35 games -- dating to June 15 -- to raise his average from .215 to .301. He's batting .397 in the 20 games since the All-Star break. Only four American League players have hit for a higher average over the same period. He has driven ineight runs in the past 10 games to contribute heavily to an 8-2 run that has helped the club inch closer to the top of the standings.

That, Davis says, is all he wants to do.

"One of the main things I want to accomplish, I want to make a significant contribution to this ballclub," Davis said. "That would be very rewarding. All of the things in the past would be forgotten. I think their investment in me would be well worth it."

He makes an interesting point. If he continues to produce and the club finds a way to upset the Blue Jays in the AL East, then it would be hard to question the trade that brought him to the Orioles or the money that has been spent to keep him in Baltimore.

Davis missed most of last season, but it was a season he could not have changed for the better. The Orioles did not have the pitching to compete, so an additional 20 home runs probably wouldn't have had much impact on the club's place in the standings. He could have had an MVP year and the team still would have sold the same number of tickets in the final season at Memorial Stadium.

This year has been something else altogether. He has injected himself into the pennant race at just the right juncture. If he truly is the "old" Glenn Davis, then the Orioles can make a legitimate claim to contention. The club has stayed close on the strength of the players at the far ends of the lineup. Davis has come back to fill the breach, which could make the difference down the stretch.

What is he doing right? He is locked into the strike zone. He is jumping on his pitch. He is, according to Oates, very "hitterish" -- the meaning of which is not entirely clear, but it sounds good. Davis also is enigmatic on the subject of his offensive revival.

"I don't want to reflect on the past, but I know I'm doing things the way Glenn Davis has done in the past," he said. "I'm reverting to some of the things I've always done."

Perhaps it is too soon to say with any certainty, but he appears to have triumphed over two years of injuries and disappointment. He came to Baltimore hoping to justify a trade that sent three promising and popular young players to the Houston Astros, but missed 105 games last year with a neck injury so rare he had to travel around the country to find doctors to treat it.

This year was supposed to be different, but another hard-to-pinpoint injury forced him onto the disabled list in April and left room to wonder whether he ever would be the player that the Orioles traded a healthy chunk of their future to acquire.

Patience is a virtue that club officials displayed publicly, but the possibility that they had thrown away three solid players -- Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley -- and $10 million (the value of Davis's 1991 contract and the two-year deal he signed last fall) had to weigh heavily on the organization.

There was some private grumbling. There also was a day in June when Oates called Davis into his office and told him that it was time to play regularly or go back on the disabled list. But Davis insists that he received encouragement during his rehabilitation period.

"I got plenty of support from my wife and my friends and teammates and friends in the Orioles front office," he said. "The toughest thing was facing the fact that I might never be able to do what I've been doing my whole life."

Davis has had to face that possibility twice now. He faced it last year when a damaged spinal accessory nerve in his neck caused the trapezius muscle in his right shoulder to wither away. Opinions varied among the medical specialists he consulted, so he accepted the most optimistic prognosis and embarked on a grueling rehabilitation program to make it come true.

He returned in time to play the final two months of last season and display enough of the "old" Glenn Davis to persuade the Orioles to lock him up for two more years at about $7 million.

Then came April and another unexplainable injury, this one a mysterious strain that seemed to move from one muscle to another. Davis said there was no connection with last year's nerve problem or the rib-cage injury that hampered him his final year in Houston, but it was not easy to write off as mere coincidence.

He again had to face the fact that his athletic career was in jeopardy. He again embarked on a strenuous rehab program, this time needing to prove something not only to himself, but also to a doubting public.

"I think he's handled it rather well," said Storm Davis, who has been like a brother to Glenn since the two were in high school in Jacksonville, Fla. "I think the injuries have been very frustrating. He's like everyone in this locker room. He wants to do well. He has persevered. He took a lot of flak. People doubted whether he could hit like he did in Houston, but I know he believed in himself."

"Everything he has gone through in his life has prepared him to handle what he has had to go through the past couple of years."

The Glenn Davis life story has been well-chronicled. Troubled boyhood. Tremendous athletic talent. Tortured teen years. Redemption. Fame and fortune. Now this.

There is no question that he has persevered. The question now is whether he really has overcome the physical obstacles that have befallen him. The numbers say yes, but history already has repeated itself once.

Oates wonders. He has kept Davis in the designated hitter role full time, though Davis told him more than a week ago that he is ready to play first base again. Why take a chance with a guy who has been hitting nearly .400 for the last three weeks and is in the midst of the longest playing streak (20 games) of his Orioles career?

"I do want to go back to play first base," Davis said. "I'm an All-Star first baseman. But with the current situation, that's a minute thing to complain about. In this situation, you don't do that.

"I'm anxious to get out there, but it's up to Johnny. Moose [Randy Milligan] is playing well. I'm not the kind of player to

groan about something like that."

Davis is not very vocal to begin with. He has always been an introvert. He has let his actions speak for him both on and off the field, from a string of big run-production years with the Astros to the Carpenter's Way Home for Boys that has been constructed largely at his expense in Columbus, Ga. No one doubts his ability or his humanity, and he has learned to handle the doubts about his durability.

"Glenn has an inner peace through his faith," Storm Davis said. "To him, the only thing he can do is the best that he can do. If he goes out there and does the best he can, whether he has success or not, he can go home and be at peace with himself because he is at peace in his life."

He's Glenn again

Glenn Davis went into the game of June 15 hitting .215. Since then, he has raised his average to .301. And his numbers during that streak compare favorably with his statistics in the last season in which he was healthy, 1989 in Houston.

Since June 15

. . .. G. . .. AB. ... R . .. H... HR. .. RBI. ... Avg.

. ....35. ... 130. .. 20. ... 46... 6. ... 21. ... .354

That was then, this is now

. .................1989. ............. Since

. ........ ..........................June 15

AB per HR. ....... 17.1. .............. 21.7

AB per RBI. ....... 6.5. ............... 6.2

Slugging pct. ......492................ .523

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