Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about Saturday's 6-1 win over the Diamondbacks. (Jon Meoli / Baltimore Sun)
What did we learn this year at Camden Yards? A week is all it takes for Baltimore to fall in love with one of its rookies. And it helps if you can hit lefties, too.
With his third home run in three starts since being called up last Sunday by the Orioles, rookie Trey Mancini joined an exclusive group in major league history and further cemented his status as the darling of a fan base desperate for someone to embrace.
Last time this happened, it was outfielder Joey Rickard during the first week of the season. And from the impact Mancini has had on a veteran team to the aw-shucks manner he has handled it, the similarities are plenty.
"It's been incredible, you know?" Mancini said after Saturday's game. "I could never imagine it happening this way, and it's still hard to believe. A week ago, I was down in Florida prepared for this, but it's cool, a week later, with everything that's happened, to be here in Baltimore and to contribute to it, to a postseason run."
Mancini's first week in the majors ends with him batting .364 (4-for-11) with a 1.689 OPS and three home runs, joining the Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies this year and Carlos Quentin of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006 as the only players with home runs in each of their first three starts, according to STATS, LLC.
In Rickard's first week, which included a bit more playing time, he hit .444 with a 1.067 OPS and had the fans chanting his name on Opening Day. He cooled considerably after, but was a threat against left-handed pitching throughout.
Rickard hit .313 with an .861 OPS against left-handers this season, which is still the second best on the team. He hasn't played since July 20 with a torn thumb ligament and likely won't be seen again this season. His absence left a hole in a lineup that has been killed by all calibers of left-handed pitching this year.
That was one of the main reasons the Orioles dealt minor league catcher Jonah Heim to the Tampa Bay Rays to reunite with right-handed-hitting outfielder Steve Pearce. Pearce was hitting .377 against lefties for the Rays, and is a career .269 hitter against left-handers.
Once he joined the Orioles, that success dried up, as he hit .179 with a pair of home runs in 28 at-bats against lefties. His time with the team will be defined by the flexor mass injury that cost him several stretches out of the lineup, and ultimately forced surgery this week.
When the Orioles learned Pearce wouldn't be returning, instead of summoning an outfielder from their minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., it was Mancini. He hit .283 off lefties for Triple-A Norfolk this season, and brings a patient approach from the right side to the Orioles lineup.
He has started at designated hitter against Boston Red Sox left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price, plus Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray. He homered off each, showing he can possibly fill a need that the team has struggled with since the All-Star break. All four of his hits have been off lefties.
"It's a huge contribution, especially against left-handed pitching," right fielder Mark Trumbo said. "He looks like he's a real weapon. He's shown the ability to drive the ball, but he's having some really good at-bats and taking guys deep into counts. He looks really polished."
In a roundabout way, his presence on the team can be linked back to the person who his debut is so reminiscent of: Rickard.
They're far different players, but both stick out in the Orioles lineup. Rickard was an odd duckling for his speed and ability to grind out at-bats. Mancini is a slugger like the rest of them, but several scouts during this homestand have noted his plan at the plate is advanced compared to some of the veterans hitting around him.
There are still similarities. Back in April, Rickard was in awe that a packed ballpark could be so behind him when he was just a rookie trying to get acclimated to the majors.
Now, Mancini is playing in high-leverage games and homering in front of passionate, if not always large crowds. Saturday's attendance of 40,610 included about 40 of his closest friends and family members, who got to join the celebration. Of everything that has happened to Mancini in this week, that's what sticks out most.
"The biggest surprise? I think maybe the amount of support I've gotten from the fans and community and how many of my really close friends and family have come out to watch," he said. "Not that that was a surprise, but that's probably been the best part of the week for me."