Chris Davis hadn't thrown a pitch in nearly six years, dating to his days as a draft hopeful playing at a small junior college in Corsicana, Texas.
But more than five hours — and 15 innings — into the Orioles' series finale with the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon-turned-evening, manager Buck Showalter turned to Davis, the club's everyday first baseman, in the visiting dugout and directed him toward the bullpen to warm up.
The Orioles had exhausted all other relief options — eight relievers combined to allowed one run over seven innings — in a game tied at 6.
Davis shrugged. His day couldn't get much worse. He already had struck out five times and grounded into a double play as the Orioles' designated hitter.
“I'm like, sweet,” Davis said. “I get to try something different today because hitting ain't working.”
The few thousands remaining from the announced sellout crowd of 37,394 did a double take when he jogged to the mound from right field. That's when Davis wrote his own chapter in history, becoming the first player to go 0-for-8 from the plate and earn a win in 107 years.
The 26-year-old Davis went on to pitch two shutout innings and center fielder Adam Jones hit a three-run homer in the top of the 17th inning to give the Orioles a 17-inning win over the Red Sox, 9-6, in the second-longest game in Orioles history.
“It was bizarre,” Jones said. “It was fun, it was awesome, it was exhausting, it was exhilirating. That was awesome, top to bottom, six hours. Started off right, it ended right, a lot of stuff in between. It's just a big, big win and it put everybody to an emotional test. We could have easily just folded, but we wanted it every inning and we were, after 17, win it.”
The Orioles earned their first three-game sweep at Fenway Park in 18 years. Baltimore's win sealed their fifth straight win in Boston and their first three-game sweep of the Red Sox here since June 10-12, 1994.
After their second extra-inning win in three games here, the Orioles will arrive home from their six-game road trip to New York and Boston sitting atop the AL East standings with a 19-9 record, a half-game in front of the Rays. The O’s have the best record in baseball, and it’s the first time they are in first place this far last into a the season since 2005.
“Just when you think you've it all, some days you just come out here and assume the position,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who won his 1,000th career game earlier this week. “You talk about team wins, I'd like to see somebody top that one team-wise. I think everybody made a contribution. If there's such a thing as having as rough a day as you can have, for Chris to end up being maybe the star of the game, so to speak, that's hard to believe.”
It was the Orioles' fourth straight extra-inning victory — all coming on the road — after losing their first two at home, both against the Yankees. It was also the Orioles' fifth straight win at Fenway and their seventh win in their past eight against the Red Sox. The Orioles passed the test of this trip, going 5-1 on the road against the perennial division powers.
“To get a win like that here, to end a road trip like this, it's huge,” Davis said. “Neither team wanted to lose today, especially when it goes to extra innings. I mean they would have pulled people out of the stands to finish that game. It's just a huge win for us.”
Davis became the first player to go hitless in eight at-bats and earn a win since Hall of Famer Rube Waddell did that for the Philadelphia A's on July 4, 1905 in a 20-inning game against Cy Young.
“I seriously don't know what happened,” said Davis, the first AL position player to earn a win since the Yankees’ Rocky Colavito in 1968. “I mean I was just out there trying to throw strikes and not blow the game. A game like that when everybody's battling, trying to get a win, both teams are battling, throwing everything they got at each other. You don't want to be the guy to throw it.”
Davis had help from a spectacular defensive play to prevent the game-winning run from scoring in the 16th.
Davis retired the first batters he faced in the 16th — hitting 91-92 on the stadium radar gun — striking out catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on an 83-mph changeup. But after Marlon Byrd reached on an E5, Mike Aviles hit a two-out double to left center that looked like it would end the game.
Jones took the ball off the wall, rifled to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who relayed a pinpoint throw to the plate, where catcher Matt Wieters was there to take a shorthop throw and hold on despite a collision with Byrd at the plate.
“[Hardy] made a good throw and we were in business, and Wieters, there was no way he was getting by him,” Jones said. “That was the game-saver. It allowed us to win. It uplifted the whole team. The whole team came off the bench after the bottom of the 16th. We were all pumped. That was the energy we needed.”
In the next half-inning, Jones launched his team-high eighth homer of the season over the Green Monster in left field off Darnell McDonald, another position player who was forced to the mound. Jones became the first Orioles player to hit a home run in the 17th inning or later since Andy Etchebarren in 1967.
Davis, who hadn't pitched since his days at Navarro (Texas) College — he did sign a letter of intent to pitch at Arkansas before being drafted by the Rangers — dodged trouble in the 17th, putting two runners on with no outs.
But he struck out slugger Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches and then induced a double-play ball from McDonald to end the game.
“He actually had good stuff, man,” McDonald said of Davis. “I was impressed. He had a lot of life on his ball, more than I expected. I don't know what's worse, giving up the three-run homer or grounding out into a double-play to end the game. He got the win and hat's off to him.”
Davis saved two game balls, one from his first strikeout and the game ball from the final out. The Orioles celebrated in the Fenway Park visiting clubhouse by giving Davis a shaving cream pie and a dousing him with beer.
“Oh yeah,” Jones said matter of factly. “He got his first major league win.”
The Orioles had their opportunities in extra innings, putting the leadoff runner on base in the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 15th innings, but couldn't advance in either inning. The Orioles grounded into four extra-inning double plays and six for the game.
Despite the end of its 232/3 scoreless-inning streak, the Orioles bullpen lowered its season ERA to a major-league best 1.41. They allowed just one run in 122/3 relief innings on the day and the Orioles received a pair of two-inning scoreless stints from Pedro Strop, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom and closer Jim Johnson. Lindstrom and Johnson haven't allowed an earned run this season in a combined 252/3 innings.
The game was long enough that the Orioles bullpen began a new streak of nine scoreless innings, including two from Davis.
“It starts with our pitching,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who homered twice and set a new career high with five hits. “Our pitching has been unbelievable, and that gives us a chance to go out there and score just enough runs. As long as our bullpen keeps doing what they're doing and our starters are going deep into ballgames, we've got a pretty good team here.”