Monday, May 7, 2012
Chris Davis, 2012 Topps Orioles Team Set #BALT5
When it became apparent that designated hitter Chris Davis, who to that point in the game was 0-for-7 with five strikeouts and a double-play grounder, would take the mound in the bottom of the 16th, I flipped back to MASN and set down the remote. There's always a special delight in the absurd when a position player is called upon to pitch, and it's an especially rare treat in Baltimore. Only five other non-pitchers had toed the rubber in team history, and the last of those was Manny Alexander in 1996. Manny was predictably horrible, but that game had already been lost. Were the O's throwing in the towel by trotting out Davis? Not quite, as it happened.
Davis, who did some pitching in high school and also dabbled in it at junior college, looked like a natural...other than his frequently changing arm slot. He sat around 90 mph with his fastball in the 16th inning, and struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia by getting him to chase a wicked changeup. Rookie Will Middlebrooks (who hours earlier had tied the game with a fifth-inning grand slam over the Green Monster) put a charge into one, but Adam Jones tracked it down in center field for out number two. It looked like Chris' big league pitching debut would feature a 1-2-3 inning, but Wilson Betemit muffed a Marlon Byrd grounder to give the Sox a second chance. When Mike Aviles followed with a ringing double to left-center field, I was certain that Chris Davis would unjustly be hung with a loss. But Adam Jones fired off a strong throw to cutoff man J. J. Hardy, and Hardy's relay throw beat Byrd to the plate. The runner collided with Matt Wieters, who hung on and casually showed the ball to Byrd and the umpire with a sly grin. There would be a 17th inning.
Not wanting to be left out, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine called upon a position player of his own to pitch the 17th: outfielder Darnell McDonald, who was of course the Orioles' first-round draft pick in 1997. McDonald had pinch run for designated hitter David Ortiz in the eighth inning, meaning that both teams forfeited their DH without making a substitution. McDonald actually pitched an inning for Boston last season, giving up a pair of runs on two walks and a hit in one inning. Let's just say that he's not nearly the pitcher that Chris Davis is. Topping out at 83 mph, Darnell walked Wilson Betemit to lead off. With Hardy (4-for-7 with two homers at that point) at bat, Betemit inexplicably tried to steal second base and was out by a mile. Hardy doubled to left, Markakis walked on four pitches, and then Adam Jones launched a batting practice-caliber fastball over the Monster. It started to sink in: Chris Davis was in line for the win. First he grounded out to second base, leaving him at 0-for-8 on the day.
Davis flirted with disaster in his second inning of work, as he couldn't field a line drive comebacker from Ryan Sweeney and walked Dustin Pedroia on five pitches. That brought powerful first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the plate as the potential tying run with nobody out. Incredibly, Chris struck out Gonzalez on three pitches, saddling Boston's cleanup hitter with an 0-for-8 of his own. Now he faced his counterpart, Darnell McDonald. Capping his rough inning, Darnell grounded the second pitch he saw to Hardy, who started the game-ending double play. That's five straight wins for the Orioles, and we just won't mention what happened with the Rangers tonight.
So, to sum up: Chris Davis pitched two scoreless innings to become:
1. The first position player to earn a win in an American League game since Rocky Colavito in 1968.
2. The first position player to start at another position and earn a win since Babe Ruth in 1925.
3. The first pitcher to earn a win while going 0-for-8 at bat since Rube Waddell in 1905.
Sometimes baseball is just too much fun.