All hail the conquering hero.
Chris Davis entered the Orioles’ series in Boston as a national punchline. A running joke. A media punching bag. His MLB record hitless drought was, it seemed, all that anybody could talk about.
Four days later, Davis has emerged from Fenway reborn, bearing a fair resemblance — if you squint just right — to the once-feared slugger who terrorized opposing pitchers for years.
This isn’t a “Chris Davis is officially back!” decree. He is, we must acknowledge, still batting .089 with a .396 OPS. But if nothing else, he’s given us — and himself — something to smile about.
Two days after breaking his 0-for-54 drought with a three-hit eruption, Davis quenched another dry spell by bashing his first home run since last Aug. 24, leading the O’s to an 8-1 victory and a series split at Fenway.
Davis’ no-doubter blast came in the eighth inning off Heath Hembree, a 408-foot shot over the Orioles’ bullpen, leaving the bat at 108 mph. Davis immediately dropped his bat, put his head down, and trotted around the bases as if he’d done it hundreds of times before. Because he has. Just, it’d been a while.
That wasn’t the only good news today vis-a-vis home runs. For the first time this year, the Orioles’ pitching staff kept their opponents from leaving the yard, snapping the club’s season-opening 16-game streak of allowing a home run. They’ll remain tied with the 2009 Phillies for that dubious record rather than holding it outright.
The Orioles took the game’s first lead in the second inning, in which they turned five baserunners into just one run. Rio Ruiz led off with a walk and advanced on a wild pitch. Renato Nunez followed with a hard smash off the Green Monster, and though Ruiz scored easily, Nunez was thrown out at second base. Either he wasn’t running full speed, or he’s even slower than I thought. That erased runner proved costly when the next three batters reached base, only for a Cedric Mullins strikeout and Jonathan Villar foul pop to strand the bases loaded.
It was one of several escapes for Red Sox fill-in starter Hector Velazquez, who worked past a leadoff runner in the third with a Dwight Smith Jr. double play grounder, his second in as many at-bats. By all rights, the Orioles should’ve flambeed Velazquez — he threw 28 balls to 29 strikes, and issued four walks — but he allowed just the one run in his three innings of work.
The underbelly of the Boston bullpen, at least, provided plenty more opportunities to score. Richie Martin drew a leadoff walk from Marcus Walden in the fifth, advanced to second on a grounder, and scored on Villar’s RBI single.
Smith then atoned for hitting into four outs in his first two at-bats, lofting a fly ball down the right field line that snuck into the first row of seats to the left of the Pesky Pole. A J.J. Hardy classic! That home run was measured at a mere 310 feet. Hey, they’re all gargantuan blasts in the box score. It was Smith’s third of the year and gave the O’s a 4-0 lead.
Now it’s time to shift our focus to the Orioles’ pitching staff. ...Hey, wait, come back! You can keep reading. They were actually pretty good today. Dan Straily made his second start for the Birds and was much improved over his first. For the first four innings, in fact, Straily was untouchable. A second-inning walk was his only blemish as he retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. His breaking ball, in particular, looked much sharper than it did in his first two (disastrous) outings as an Oriole. He notched a pair of strikeouts and induced plenty of weak contact.
Straily, though, appeared to lose steam during a long fifth inning, in which he threw 28 pitches and was interrupted by both a replay review and a Brandon Hyde blowup. Xander Bogaerts led off with an infield single to snap Straily’s modest no-hit bid, and Rafael Devers followed with another base knock, putting runners at the corners with nobody out.
Steve Pearce then smacked a bouncer to third. Ruiz fielded and fired to second, where Villar was greeted with a hard slide from Devers, stifling any chance of turning two. Bogaerts scored Boston’s first run. Hyde charged out of the dugout, arguing that Devers’ slide was illegal. The O’s challenged the play, but after review, the umpires ruled no interference.
That brought a fired-up Hyde back onto the field. He confronted the umpires, clearly mouthing, “What’s the point of the rule, then?” along with a few other choice words that can’t be repeated in polite company. Arguing a call that’s already been reviewed is an auto-ejection, and sure enough, Hyde got the heave-ho. It took only 17 games for his first ejection as a manager.
I must say — I’m glad Hyde was so passionate about fighting for his team, and trying to protect his players from injury, but honestly the slide didn’t look illegal to me. Devers slid straight into the bag, and while he did pop up very close to Villar, it didn’t seem malicious or injurious. In any case, Straily retired the final two batters to finish the inning and wrap up his day’s work.
Nice work by Straily, who held the Sox to just one run and two hits in five innings. This was the kind of performance the O’s were hoping for when they signed him earlier this month; nothing spectacular, but a strong, workmanlike effort that gave his team a chance to win.
The Orioles’ bullpen held the line from there with its strongest performance of the season, keeping the Red Sox off the board for the final four innings. A bunch of insurance runs — first on Davis’ eighth-inning roundtripper, then a Smith two-run double in the ninth — gave the relief crew plenty of breathing room. Jimmy Yacabonis, Paul Fry, Evan Phillips, and Miguel Castro limited the Sox to two hits.
I hope Bostonians enjoy their Patriots’ Day festivities today. But today at Fenway, it was the Orioles who got to celebrate.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for April 15, 2019?
This poll is closed
Chris Davis (broke home run drought)
Dwight Smith Jr. (2-for-5, HR, four RBIs)
Dan Straily (5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, win)