BOSTON — When the longest hitless streak in major league history ended and when the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their sixth victory of the season with a 9-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Chris Davis channeled his inner Rocky Balboa and walked into the visitors clubhouse with his fists above his head, a smile streaking across his face. His teammates prepared a hero’s welcome too, banging the walls of their lockers, turning the scene into an impromptu “STOMP” performance. Davis looked around at the joy emanating from his teammates and felt a weight lift off his shoulders.
No more questions about when he’d get a hit again. No more questions for his teammates about his slump. No more bars offering free drinks contingent on Davis’ notching his first hit of the season. No more worries about a historic slump.
“It was the elephant in the room for a while,” Davis said.
At 33, Davis is the oldest player on one of the youngest rosters in the league — the Orioles’ average age is 27.79 years old. There’s only so much someone can do when he finds himself in the middle of the biggest slump in major league history. Davis did everything in his control, especially the past five days. The Orioles’ youngsters all took note.
“He continued to show us how to be a professional,” 24-year-old Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins said. “Going through the struggles that he has, he kept his chin up no matter what. To witness that in person, it’ll help me maintain my composure when I go through the same thing.”
Slumps in baseball are inevitable for everyone. Davis sought advice from Orioles hitting coaches Don Long and Howie Clark. He spent extra time on the field. He took early batting practice. And beyond that, he didn’t make any radical changes and stuck to his routine. Davis didn’t do anything differently Saturday. He still took batting practice. He still tied his cleats. He still did everything he could to prepare for the game.
And while it’s statistically improbable that any other players on the Orioles’ roster will ever find themselves hitless in 54 consecutive at-bats in their careers, let alone this season, most will also never finish in the top three for the MVP award, as Davis did in 2013.
“Everybody knows he can hit. For gosh sakes, he’s Chris Davis, man,” Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz, 24, said.
The old Chris Davis peeked through Saturday. His four RBIs matched his single-game high in 2018. Davis knew things would be different after stepping out of the cage during batting practice.
“I had probably the worst BP round in the history of baseball, which is a good sign if you know baseball,” Davis said with a chuckle.
The positive omens from batting practice proved true. With the bases loaded in the top of the first, Davis drove a 1-0, 93 mph fastball from Red Sox starter Rick Porcello into right field, scoring the first two Orioles runs of the day. Davis sprayed the ball all over the field Saturday, driving doubles toward both left and right field in subsequent at-bats to finish 3-for-5 and showing flashes of the Chris Davis who hit .286/.370/.634 with 53 homers, 138 RBIs and 6.5 WAR in 2013.
“I tried not to let [the slump] dominate my thoughts, especially the last few days when I really felt better at the plate and still wasn’t seeing any return,” Davis said. “Coming on the road, when we are at home, it’s one thing. Being on the road, it’s a little different. I was glad to see not one fall today, but get a few hits, like I really contributed to the win.”
After the game, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde seemed relieved that for the first time this season he’d be taking positive questions about Davis. With a big smile on his face, Hyde highlighted the example Davis set the past two weeks, amid the worst stretch of his major league career.
“You just learn about him. This guy is tough. This guy is mentally tough. To persevere through that, the spotlight on him, everybody is talking about him, to see him talking about it on TV,” Hyde said. “To see him be the same guy every day and put in so much extra time … to see the results work out for him, it’s a great feeling.”
It’s why the entire Orioles dugout exploded in excitement when Davis finally touched first base, banging helmets against the railing, jumping up and down and visibly cheering. Davis tipped his helmet toward the dugout, a smile on his face, and asked for the baseball. When asked what he was going to do with the ball that marked the end of the worst stretch in baseball history, Davis laughed.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to get it authenticated,” Davis said. “You have to embrace it at some point.”
Davis might just now begin embracing his less-than-ideal spot in the annals of baseball lore, but the lessons have already been taught and learned, at least for the young Orioles.
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do,” Ruiz said. “That’s all you need to know about Chris Davis.”
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