The long-accepted theory around these parts is that Camden Yards morphs from a neutral park to a hitter's haven in late May to early June when the temperatures start heating up and the humidity thickens.
It was 86 degrees at first pitch Wednesday night, and the Orioles and the Washington Nationals collectively breathed life into the great shrinking ballpark theory with an eight-homer barrage that culminated in a 9-6 Orioles victory before an announced crowd of 39,129.
"I think it is a completely different ballpark in the way it plays [when the weather is warm]," said Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who served up four homers, including three to Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, in 4 2/3 innings Wednesday. "I know that. I know what to expect. That's no excuse."
Luckily for Tillman and the Orioles, it wasn't just Zimmerman who was depositing souvenirs throughout the park Wednesday night. Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce each had homers and Chris Davis had two more — padding his major league lead to 19.
The torrid Davis, who accepted April's American League Player of the Month Award before the game on his T-shirt giveaway night, was 4-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to eight games. In his past 19 games, Davis has 10 homers nine doubles, 20 runs scored and 20 RBIs while batting .432.
"The first baseman's in heat," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter concurred, just not in such pithy terms.
"He's just been consistent," Showalter said. "And when people are consistent in the way they live their life, they have a chance to be consistent in baseball and sports, too. He's in a good place in a lot of ways."
The Orioles (29-24) aren't in an awful way either — winning six of their last nine and in position to take the season series against the geographic-rival Nationals (27-26) with a victory Thursday.
This one looked fairly improbable after the Nats jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the fifth to chase Tillman and dip into the Orioles bullpen.
"Not very good. I fell behind a lot," said Tillman, who allowed a season-high six runs and four homers — Zimmerman's three and a 406-foot Eutaw Street blast by Roger Bernadina. "Call it poor execution or poor game planning. Probably a little bit of both. I made some mistakes there and they put some good swings on the ball."
But Markakis homered against Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann (8-3) in the sixth, and then the Orioles erupted with the six-run seventh against Zimmermann and reliever Tyler Clippard.
"That [loss] hurt," Johnson, the Nationals' manager, said. "It's a tough ballpark to pitch in and one little mistake, you let them get something going, and the momentum shifts real quick. I thought [Zimmermann] had pretty good stuff, but this ballpark can eat you alive."
Pearce hit his third homer of the season in the seventh, scoring Ryan Flaherty, who was recalled Wednesday afternoon and had two hits, including an RBI double in the second. Manny Machado had an RBI double later in the seventh, and Markakis added a run-scoring single to set up Davis' fourth multi-home run game of his career.
"It's fun," Davis said. "You're always working on things, whether you're locked in or struggling. Just the consistent approach every day has helped me out, the routine. I heard for such a long time that routine was such a big part of this game. I've really found one that I like, and I've continued to do that every day."
Despite Davis's homers, he wasn't even the offensive star of the night — that distinction belonged to Zimmerman, the Nationals third baseman, who homered in his first three at-bats.
"We couldn't keep Zimmerman in the yard," Showalter said. "I think he hit one to left-center, one to center, one to right, and I guess he gave us a little break there and didn't hit one down the left field line. He's something. I can see why everyone you talk to who has a lot of National League experience will talk about what a great player he is."
Zimmerman had just three homers in 137 at-bats this season and had never hit three before in a game in his career. He joined Adam Dunn (2010) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) as the only players in Nationals' history to have a three-homer game.
Zimmerman also made a little Baltimore sports history. He is just the fourth opponent to hit at least three homers in a game at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992. Texas' Josh Hamilton hit four last May 8; Severna Park native Mark Teixeira had three for the Rangers in 2006 and Oakland's Erubiel Durazo did it in 2004.
Zimmerman has hit well at Camden Yards in the past — he came in as a .304 hitter in 18 previous games — but had just two homers. He had a chance to become the third Orioles' opponent in club history to homer four times, but Steve Johnson (1-1) fanned him in the seventh.
Steve Johnson threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings and was followed by perfect innings from Tommy Hunter, who was making his first appearance since bruising his hand on a comebacker on Sunday, and closer Jim Johnson.
Jim Johnson, who had blown four of his past five save opportunities, struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth for his 16th save of the season and second since May 10. The crowd applauded him as he entered the game and cheered wildly as he secured the comeback victory.
"Jimmy gets it. He knows how hard a job it is mentally," Showalter said. "I thought our fans were pretty impressive with the reception they gave him."
Showalter is not one to talk about big wins in the middle of the season, but he admitted he was going to enjoy this one a little more than some previous victories as he drove home Wednesday night.
"It was a good win," he said smiling. "I may take a little slower jaunt down Pratt [Street]."