At last week's press conference that officially announced the return of Chris Davis to the Orioles, Davis spoke with some pride of having been on a team full of guys who had been traded or passed over. There have been a number of players on the successful Orioles teams of recent years who fit into that misfit underdog narrative. Few embody that concept quite like Steve Pearce, the unlikely breakout player of the 2014 AL East champion O's. Pearce's career takes him now to Tampa Bay. His Birdland contributions shall never be forgotten.
Steve came to us from the New York Yankees, one of those Dan Duquette waiver claims that seems like it'll surely never amount to much. That was in the middle of the 2012 wild card season, in which Pearce played 28 games and batted .254/.321/.437. He was here in the middle, before being claimed in turn by the Astros and the Yankees, returning to the O's at the very end on yet another waiver claim. Why so much trouble for a player who was then 29 years old? You had to wonder.
The 2013 season didn't bring an answer to the question, either. Pearce battled left wrist tendinitis through a season where he was on the disabled list on two separate occasions. He played in only 44 MLB games that year, although he at least managed to spend all of it in one organization.
Davis was the one to bring up the team full of rejects believing in one another. You don't get much more of a reject than Pearce had been before his O's breakout. Even in that 2014 season, Pearce was designated for the assignment by the Orioles. It was the end of April and there was just no room for him. Of course there wasn't going to be much of a clamoring to keep a guy who entered that season with a career .238/.318/.377 batting line. And the Orioles had Davis, who had hit 53 home runs the season prior.
That's what we all thought. Then Davis's oblique tweaked and suddenly the Orioles found themselves in need of a real first baseman after all. Oops, too bad they'd already DFA'd Pearce, right?
Pearce almost didn't even end up being an Oriole again. After being DFA'd, he was claimed by the Blue Jays. In the ordinary course of affairs, that's that. However, knowing a spot awaited him once again with the O's, Pearce elected to become a free agent rather than go there. That allowed the O's, using a piece of quintessentially Duquettian roster legerdemain, to re-sign Pearce almost immediately. Luckily for the O's, Pearce wanted to come back here after the DFA.
One way to get in the good graces of Baltimore sports fans is to choose us over any one of our divisional rivals. Another way is to run wild on the American League when nobody expects you to do so. That's what Pearce did with his second lease on an Orioles life. Freed from worrying about playing time, Pearce proceeded to trash the league. He went on to bat .293/.373/.556 for the remainder of the season, 102 games and a bit more than half a season's worth of plate appearances.
That's All-Star-level numbers. Over a full season, it's MVP-caliber numbers. And it all came from a 31-year-old first baseman who'd never before played in more than 61 games in a single MLB season. That's about as good as it gets in the game of baseball. Yeah, it's fun to see the stars do well. But when it's the nobodies doing well, that's even better.
It's become my tradition in this space to share one of a player's finest moments as part of the salute. It's tough to pick just one for Pearce. He was, for whatever reason, one of the most GIF-able Orioles, though I can't show you any of those because MLB hates fan-made GIFs. Perhaps his greatest moment came on Clinchmas, 2014 - not that we knew it would be that until later in the evening:
It doesn't get a whole lot more 2014 Orioles than Pearce hitting a three-run homer to overcome an early deficit. The O's went on to win that game, 8-2, clinching the AL East. It was Pearce who fielded the ball unassisted to put an exclamation point on the game's ending. As MASN's Jim Hunter simply stated, "The Orioles are champions!" Pearce helped make them champions.
Not to be forgotten, either, is Pearce's direct contribution to the epic O's rally against the Tigers bullpen in ALDS Game 2. If Pearce doesn't get the RBI single, the Delmon Young Double Heard Round Baltimore never happens. And speaking of that double, don't forget the supporting role of Pearce. He scored from second on the play, and most importantly, as J.J. Hardy safely crosses the plate, it's Pearce's wild, exuberant signaling of safe that captured the moment so perfectly. He flapped his arms so wide he almost could have taken flight. So could most of Birdland in that moment.
Orioles fans will always have that special 2014 season to remember - and it just wouldn't have been the same if the 2014 season didn't have Pearce. And I don't know about you, but when I think of Pearce, I'll always think of him as in the picture at the top of this article, enjoying the well-deserved triumph that no one ever would have guessed that he or any of the rest of them would earn for themselves.
Steve is Birdland.
With Pearce's departure, there are 19 remaining members of the 2014 Orioles on the current 40-man roster. Of the 2012 wild card winning O's, 14 still remain.