Orioles thoughts and observations (Davis' 50th, Hammel and sparking defense)

TORONTO – After Orioles slugger Chris Davis hit his 50th homer of the season Friday night, tying Brady Anderson’s franchise record for home runs in a single season, I asked Davis where this one ranked among his most memorable homers.

“It’s up there,” said Davis, whose homer broke a 3-3 tie in the Orioles’ eventual 5-3 win. “The first thing I thought when it went out was, thank goodness we got the lead back. This is a long road trip and obviously very crucial games. To start off with a win is huge.”

Remember that Davis has a large pool to choose from. He hit a grand slam that gave the Orioles the lead in the home opener this year. He had that two-homer, five-RBI day in Detroit in June and a three-homer game last year against the Blue Jays. His ability to take balls off the outer third of the plate over the fence makes more of his homers impressive regardless of impact.

But had the Orioles lost Friday, they would have fallen 3 ½ games behind the second AL wild card spot with 16 games remaining. That would have been tough to rebound from.

Instead, Davis hit his 18th go-ahead homer of the season and might have salvaged the Orioles’ season.

And here’s a prediction that Davis hits No. 51 before the weekend is over. He smashes Blue Jays pitching, hitting 16 homers against Toronto since the beginning of the 2012 season and seven this year.  

His four homers at the Rogers Centre this season are most of any opposing ballpark. He’s hitting .379/.486/.931 in eight games in Toronto this season

Even though Jason Hammel allowed a pair of homers and was held to a pitch count, his showing on Friday was a positive sign because he was able to lean on his slider to get hitters out. His ability to bury that pitch complements his fastball and curveball combo well. He needs it to really be successful.

Center fielder Adam Jones set the tone of the game when he threw out Jose Reyes trying to stretch a double into a triple. Jones barehanded the ball off the center-field fence and rifled a throw to third to beat Reyes’ head-first slide at third for his 10th outfield assist.

“Jonesy started it off well,” Hammel said. “I didn’t mean to give up a triple or double on the second pitch of the game. Jonesy plays the game real hard and it was a great throw to third. I was actually happy. Jose pushed it. … I was almost hoping he’d go to third there because I know Jonesy can throw a strike when he needs to and he did that.”

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado made three more defensive plays that were critical to Friday night’s win.

In the third inning, Machado, playing deep and down the line on J.P. Arencibia’s made a diving stop down the line and a strong throw to rob Arencibia of extra bases in the third inning. On the left-handed hitting Reyes, he made a nice grab on a ball tailing away in the fourth, and then robbed Edwin Encarnacion with a diving stop in the hole with one on and two down in the eighth inning.

“Manny was one of the big difference-makers in the game tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s what I’ll go home tonight and think about is defense, that’s what allowed us to stay in this thing. They’ve taken such great pride in their defense.”

Sixteen-game winner Chris Tillman can help keep the momentum building for the Orioles this afternoon. He’s 3-2 with a 4.13 ERA in eight career starts against the Blue Jays and 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA in five career starts at the Rogers Centre. He recorded a quality start in his last outing against the Jays, allowing three runs on eight hits over six innings in an 11-3 win on July 12 at Camden Yards.

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