BALTIMORE — It was March 17th of this year — the 27th birthday for Chris Davis — as the Longview High graduate collected his bats and glove and headed to the clubhouse of the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla.
He had played a few innings in the spring training game and was joining other veterans for an early shower as Baltimore reserves finished off the exhibition game. Davis had spent most of spring training getting plenty of work at first base, a position he had not played on a regular basis with the Orioles.
“For me it is being a little too aggressive,” Davis said that day of playing first base. “There are times to be aggressive and go get the ball and times to sit back and make the routine play.”
More than six months later the experiment of having Davis play first has worked very well for the Orioles, who have set a Major League record for most errorless games in a season. They had played 118 errorless games through Tuesday to break the record of 113 set by Houston in 2008.
“There are times when our defense has picked us up and got our pitching staff out of jams when they needed it,” Davis said. The pitchers “don’t have to be perfect and strike everybody out. We will make the plays behind them.”
That defense took a hit Monday afternoon in Tampa when young third baseman Manny Machado was injured when he fell after hitting the first base bag awkwardly while running out a batted ball. He will be lost for the rest of the season, while Davis has made just six errors this season through Monday with 71 assists and he has taken part in 151 double plays.
And perhaps you have heard that Davis, a Sports Illustrated cover boy last month, has done pretty well on offense to boot. He has had a breakout season with an All-Star game appearance and the left-handed slugger set a Baltimore franchise record when he smashed his 51st homer on Sept. 17, to break the mark set by Brady Anderson in 1996.
Major league veteran Dan Johnson, signed by the Orioles in late August from the Yankees, has been impressed with Texas native Davis.
“It is truly amazing the way he goes up there and the power he has,” said Johnson, who was in the starting lineup Tuesday against Toronto as the DH at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “It has been fun to watch. I have seen three homers. This guy is really going. If you watch his at bats and how tough they pitch him, he is not sneaking up on anybody.”
In games through Monday, Davis was hitting .286 with 52 homers, 41 doubles and 136 RBIs in 155 games for the Orioles. He hit No. 52 on Monday at Tampa Bay. Prior to Tuesday he led the majors in homers and extra-base hits, with 94.
“Brady is a guy that I have a lot of respect for what he has meant to the Orioles. He is one of those guys that is going to work as hard as he can,” Davis told radio 105.7 The Fan of Anderson. “He has been awesome. I think a lot of guys would have been different about (losing a record). He has been very accepting. “
“I think last year was a turning point in my career. I got (515) at bats at the big league level,” he added. “This year has obviously been a lot of fun. Our offense has really taken off this year.”
The Orioles were on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention going into Tuesday’s games after they lost all four games at Tampa Bay in a series that ended Monday. They were officially eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday.
After playing at Longview High, Davis played at Navarro College and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fifth round in 2006. He worked his way up the minor league ladder and made his debut in The Show on June 26, 2008 with Texas.
Davis went back and forth between the majors and minors from 2008 to 2010 and was then traded to the Orioles on July 30, 2011 with pitcher Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara and cash.
Hunter has been a key setup guy out of the Baltimore bullpen the past two seasons while Uehara has been a key closer for the Red Sox this season. Davis saw action at first base, outfield and designated hitter in 2012 but manager Buck Showalter, who once skippered the Rangers, wanted Davis to lock down the first base job in spring training.
“They had to wait a little bit longer for me. To be on a team that is winning is awesome,” Davis said.
The Orioles made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1997 as Davis hit 33 homers with 85 RBIs.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer in Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com