On May 6, 2012, the Orioles and Boston Red Sox were tied, 6-6, through 15 innings. Manager Buck Showalter had burned through his bullpen. Only Brian Matusz, who was scheduled to start the next night, and third-string catcher Luis Exposito were left. Showalter had other ideas.
He knew that Chris Davis had pitched in junior college and decided to take a chance on Davis, who had struck out five times and hit into a double play as the designated hitter.
Davis pitched a scoreless 16th, and Adam Jones hit a three-run home run against Boston reserve outfielder Darnell McDonald, who was pitching for the Red Sox in the top of the 17th.
In the bottom of the 17th, Davis threw another scoreless inning, and the Orioles had a most unlikely win.
The most unusual game I’ve ever seen was the beginning in many ways of the most recent successful five-year run of the Orioles.
Before that season, Davis was a power hitter who hadn’t managed to become a regular in four seasons with the Texas Rangers. Texas traded Davis and pitcher Tommy Hunter, who started that May game, to the Orioles on July 30, 2011 for reliever Koji Uehara.
Davis played some third base and the corner outfield positions in his early days with the Orioles. In 2012, he was part of a most entertaining team that finally broke a 14-year streak of losing Oriole teams.
On Thursday, Davis, 35, announced his retirement from baseball. Many fans will remember the bloated seven-year, $161 million contract and the unproductive years that followed. But there were productive years that convinced Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos that Davis was worth the deal.
In 2012, Davis hit .270 with 33 home runs and 85 RBIs as part of a talented team, few of whom remain active.
This year alone, rightfielder Nick Markakis retired, catcher Matt Wieters, who didn’t sign with any team, was cut by the United States Olympic baseball team, and sidearming reliever Darren O’Day said he’d have to think carefully about his future after his most recent hamstring injury while pitching for the New York Yankees.
Shortly after the Davis announcement was made, the Chicago Cubs placed struggling right-hander Jake Arrieta on release waivers.
Last weekend, the Orioles honored shortstop J.J. Hardy, another mainstay of that team who retired in 2017, with his installation in the team’s Hall of Fame.
The most beloved player in 2012 was centerfielder Adam Jones, who’s completing a two-year contract in Japanese baseball.
A few players from that team are still around — Manny Machado, who was still at Double-A Bowie, playing shortstop on the day Davis pitched, and Zack Britton, who was trying to make it as a starter and is now a key reliever on the Yankees.
That fun team was the one that turned the fan base back on to the Orioles.
Davis didn’t break out until he led the major leagues in home runs with 53 and RBIs with 138 in 2013.
He was expecting another big year in 2014, but it ended with a .196 average and a 25-game suspension for failure to obtain a prescription for a stimulant.
That was the year the Orioles had their best chance to get to the World Series, but Machado and Wieters had season-ending injuries and Davis couldn’t play in the postseason because of the suspension.
In 2015, he had a brilliant second half of the season when he slammed 28 home runs in 74 games and led the majors again with 47.
Davis wanted to stay with the Orioles. After the team allowed Markakis and Nelson Cruz to leave after the 2014 season, Angelos felt he needed to sign Davis to avoid more negative fan fallout.
Once he signed the contract, Davis never duplicated those numbers. He hit .196 with 92 home runs and 231 RBIs.
While he donated large sums to several worthy charities, his on-field performance overshadowed his generosity. Fans called for him to walk away, which he finally did on Thursday.
Davis was always articulate and quotable, and would privately voice his opinion and, yes, he knew what the fans were thinking.
Now, he’ll go back to his Texas home with his wife, Jill, and three daughters and spend time with them without fans making fun of his futility.
In Baltimore, they’ll bemoan that contract, forgetting that many fans swore they’d never attend games again if Davis wasn’t re-signed.
While they’ll recite the numbers in his deal, they’ll forget that day in Boston when Davis pitched to help fuel that great run. They’ll forget those exciting home runs and those Crush T-shirts that were once a hot commodity.
It’s sad that Davis couldn’t duplicate his early success but be happy that there was that early success.
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