While Chris Davis' season has been a struggle at the plate, there's no question the Orioles first baseman still can change a game with one swing of his bat.
Davis is hitting just .189 this season, but regardless of his place in the club's lineup, he still gets respect at the plate — so much so that opponents recently have chosen to make his teammates beat them rather than keep the bat in Davis' hands.
The Minnesota Twins, however, had no choice but to pitch to Davis with the bases loaded in the fourth inning Friday night, and Davis made them pay by crushing a grand slam off Twins right-hander Trevor May, the pivotal blast in a 9-1 drubbing before an announced 27,464 at Camden Yards.
"Obviously, that was the big blow of the night," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Davis' homer. "Chris has kept working, through thick and thin. He's got a chance to end up with 25, 30 home runs and 80 RBIs. Who knows? We know what he can do in bunches. I'm real proud of the way he's continued to fight through it. A lot of people could have or would have given in, but he hasn't."
With their fourth win in five games, the Orioles (77-56) maintained their seven-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. They have won 19 of their past 25 games at home and are 21 games above .500, tying a season high.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez held the Twins (59-75) to one run in seven innings, the seventh start in his past eight in which he has allowed two runs or fewer.
The Orioles took advantage of command woes from May, who was making his fifth major league start for a Twins club that offered few familiar names. Even though May struck out eight batters in four inning, twice striking out the side, he struggled to find the strike zone in a fateful fourth inning.
After third baseman Jimmy Paredes, in his first at-bat in place of an injured Steve Pearce, opened the inning with a single, May hit center fielder Adam Jones with a pitch on the left hip, then struck designated hitter Nelson Cruz in the left forearm to load the bases.
Showalter deemed neither hit batter intentional — the two plunkings came within five pitches of one another — and May said he tried to warn Cruz to get out of the way.
"As the pitch came out of my hand, I was like, 'Get out of the way,' but he just couldn't," May said. "It's frustrating."
May then walked shortstop J.J. Hardy on four pitches to score the first run of the game, bringing Davis to the plate with the bases loaded.
One day earlier, in a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Davis was intentionally walked to bring up Hardy, who went on to record the go-ahead hit.
With the bases loaded, there was no room to walk Davis this time, and May (0-4) made a critical mistake on a 3-1 fastball, throwing a 92-mph offering over the plate and just above the knees.
"He threw that one out over the plate and left it up just enough where I could put a good swing on it, and I was able to drive in all of it," Davis said.
Davis blasted the pitch into the right-center-field stands for the Orioles' fifth grand slam of the season. It was Davis' 24th homer this year, second grand slam of the season and fourth of his career. The shot also gave Davis 67 RBIs this season.
"There have been games where I've had a rough couple of first at-bats and I've come up late and hit a home run or had a big hit," Davis said. "I think that's the way you kind of have to approach it when you're not swinging the bat the way you want to all the time. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities to drive in runs, and that's kind of what I've done."
It was also Davis' third homer in his past five games. In his past 15 games, Davis is just 7-for-52, but six of those were extra-base hits: three homers and three doubles.
"It looks like every time he's out there in key games, key situations, he gets that opportunity to get a base hit, double, whatever, a home run, he's been doing a pretty good job," Gonzalez said.
The Orioles plated three more runs in the fifth, capped by Delmon Young's two-run homer off May, which chased him from the game after 4 2/3 innings.
Nick Markakis opened the inning with a leadoff double into the right-center-field gap and scored two batters later on Jones' RBI single. Young then turned on a 1-1 pitch from May for his seventh homer of the season despite an outstanding effort by Twins left fielder Jordan Schafer, who crashed into the outfield fence and nearly caught Young's homer.
The play was reviewed, and replays appeared to show that the ball had deflected off Schafer's glove and been caught by a fan reaching over the fence. But the play stood, indicating that there wasn't enough conclusive evidence to overturn the call.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was granted a crew chief review on Young's homer, was beyond frustrated with the ruling.
"I challenged it," Gardenhire said. "I did my thing. Somewhere here between here and [the Replay Command Center in] New York, something got lost. … The person that obviously looked at that film shouldn't have been working there, because that's a joke. That's embarrassing. The system didn't work tonight, because the guy reached over the fence, caught the ball over the fence. That can't happen at this level."
The Orioles added one more run on Jonathan Schoop's sixth-inning RBI double off Samuel Deduno, a line drive that skipped past a diving Danny Santana in center field.
The Twins' only run came on Trevor Plouffe's solo homer off Gonzalez in the seventh.
Otherwise, Gonzalez (7-7) made fast work of Minnesota, constantly working ahead of Twins hitters. He threw 19 of 26 first-pitch strikes while recording his first start of seven or more innings since July 22.
"He was solid," Showalter said of Gonzalez. "He was [at] 89, 90 [mph] in the first inning, and I wondered what kind of fastball he was carrying. He had really good late life. Miggy's got a really good wrist. He's got a lot of late life. He was solid. … That's as sharp as you're going to see him. They're a club that can swing the bat."
In his past three starts, Gonzalez has a 1.86 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks.
Left-hander Brian Matusz threw two perfect innings in relief, recording three strikeouts and extending his scoreless-appearance streak at home to eight. The Orioles bullpen hasn't allowed a run at home over its past 16 1/3 innings.