BALTIMORE – Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe when a guy’s power stroke is putting him in the company of Willie Mays and Mark Mc-Gwire in baseball history, the pitcher and the situation and the location of the pitch matter about as much as what he had for breakfast.
But the Twins can’t help but feel that circumstances conspired to beat them Friday almost as much as Chris Davis did.
The Orioles’ first baseman continued his record-shattering hot streak during Baltimore’s home opener, clubbing Tyler Robertson’s first-pitch fastball 10 rows deep into the left-field stands in the eighth inning, an opposite-field grand slam that carried the Orioles to a 9-5 victory over the Twins.
“When you leave the ball up to a guy, especially when he’s hot, they’re going to hit it hard, somewhere,” Robertson said after the Twins dropped their fourth straight game in Camden Yards. “I mean, he barely swung. He’s just on fire now.”
As fires go, this one is basically Chicago 1871, leveling every pitcher who dares challenge him. Davis has homered in all four of the Orioles’ games this season (he has 11 in Baltimore’s last 11 games, too), something that only Mays in 1971, McGwire in 1998 and Nelson Cruz in 2011 have ever done before. He’s batting .600 and, by driving in five runs on Friday, now has 16 RBI — or more than 25 other teams had entering the day.
With the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, Robertson was brought into a tie game specifically to get the left-handed-hitting Davis, and he tried to start out by keeping a fastball low and away. The away part he managed. But “it wasn’t down,” the left-handed Robertson said. “If it was down, maybe something else happens.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire wanted something else to happen; specifically, a breaking pitch. “My pitcher threw a fastball. I would hope that you would bring a lefthander in to throw a slider,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want to see fastball. We’ll have to talk about that.”
But the manager admitted the situation could have been avoided to begin with. For one thing, setup man Jared Burton was unavailable, having thrown a total of 22 pitches Wednesday and Thursday; the Twins don’t want to risk his shoulder by pitching him on three straight days. And closer Glen Perkins doesn’t normally enter games until the ninth. That meant Casey Fien pitched the eighth, and the righthander twice got ahead of hitters 0-2 and ended up allowing hits, one a broken-bat single by Nolan Reimold to lead off the inning, the other a potential double-play ground ball by Adam Jones that instead got through to the outfield and tied the score.
“I got some bad swings,” Fien said, “but they got the holes.”
He also made a snap decision to play it safe on a sacrifice bunt back to the mound. Fien picked it up and looked at third base but chose not to try to force Reimold at third. “He just didn’t throw it. That’s big — he definitely had him,” Gardenhire said. Had he gotten the force, “now it’s first and second, one out. Yeah, that’s a big play.”
Getting the lead runner would have allowed Fien to face Nick Markakis, and “maybe my cutter in would have been good to get a ground ball right there,” Fien said. But “I just wanted to get an out.”
He did, then intentionally walked Markakis to load the bases. Jones’ ground-ball single drove in the tying run — “We got a ground ball,” Gardenhire said, “it just wasn’t at someone.” — and Robertson relieved Fien. One pitch later, the Twins’ carefully built 5-4 lead was history.
Major league history.