Davis proves inspiration with bat, too

July 29, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

DETROIT -- No longer is he Eric Davis, recovering cancer patient.

He is Eric Davis, ballplayer, which is all he ever wanted to be.

Just 13 months after undergoing colon-cancer surgery, Davis is the Orioles' hottest hitter, the driving force in their 15-3 run since the All-Star break.

He was at it again last night, hitting a two-out, three-run homer in the third inning to help rally the Orioles from a 5-0 deficit in their 6-5 victory over Detroit.

"He's doing what he's been put on this earth to do, and that's play this game," teammate Jeffrey Hammonds said.

Davis' hitting streak stands at 15 games, longest by an Oriole this season. Even more impressive, he has started 16 straight games, and 23 of the past 24.

Ray Miller spoke all spring of his reluctance to use Davis too often, fearing that the 13-year veteran still might be weak from the chemotherapy treatments he received until Feb. 9.

The manager stuck to his plan in the first half, rarely playing Davis more than two days in a row. Davis admitted that he grew fatigued, but wouldn't attribute it to the effects of chemo.

"I was still trying to build myself back up," he said. "If I played three or four days in a row, I'd get a little tired. But I can't say it was from [the chemo]. It was from playing three or four days in a row."

And now?

"I'm tired," Davis said in the cramped Tiger Stadium clubhouse, a large ice pack on his right elbow. "I haven't played this many games in a row since '96."

Davis, 36, was with the Cincinnati Reds that season, batting .287 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs after sitting out all of '95 with a herniated disk in his neck.

In this comeback, he has started virtually every Orioles game in July, and all but two of the starts have come as a designated hitter.

"To see someone go through three rounds of chemo and come back and play major-league baseball is pretty amazing," Miller said.

"I think it really took its toll for a month or two. You'd see him play three days in a row, and his bat would slow down. But he's gotten beyond that. He's gotten comfortable in the DH role. I would think after a life experience like that, being a DH doesn't bother you so much."

Davis switched to DH when bone chips in his elbow left him unable to throw. But Miller said that he might occasionally return to the outfield once Harold Baines comes off the disabled list, and continue to serve as a part-time DH.

Whatever, Davis still views himself as a complete player.

"I'm 36 years old, man -- I'm not crippled," he said. "If that [being a DH] is what I have to do, that's what I have to do. The most important thing is that I can still play defense. I'm not concerned about that."

Why should he be? The way he is going, it will be impossible to remove him from the lineup. This is the player who made such an impact the first six weeks of last season, the player who captivated Orioles fans like few free agents before.

Davis is batting .500 in his past seven games, .408 since the All-Star break, .381 since June 17. Eighteen of his past 43 hits have gone for extra bases.

His 18 homers rank second on the club, and Davis has delivered them in only 271 at-bats. His .321 batting average is second to Baines' .328. His .594 slugging percentage is second to Rafael Palmeiro's .596.

"He's the type of player, the type of person, who brings a lot to this ballclub," said Lenny Webster, who hit his career-high ninth homer to start the Orioles' third-inning comeback.

"He's upbeat. He's boisterous. He loves playing the game. It rubs off on other players. It's a contagious-type thing that he has -- something that not everyone brings."

Viewed from a distance, Davis' comeback remains nothing short of inspiring. But within the Orioles' clubhouse, few seem surprised by what he is accomplishing this season.

The players were amazed last year, when Davis went 4-for-5 one day after receiving chemo in Milwaukee, and when he hit a pinch home run that proved decisive in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

"As you see, he hasn't skipped a beat," Hammonds said. "It took a little while to get back in his groove. But when he's on his game, he's as good as anyone in the game. That cannot be contested."

For his part, Davis prefers not to look back. He said he does not think about others viewing him as a symbol of hope. If you're looking for deeper meaning, try another locker.

"I play the game because I enjoy playing it," Davis said.

His comeback from cancer?

"All that stuff happened last year," he said. "I'm beyond that. I'm not worried about that. That's past tense."

He's living for the present, nothing more, nothing less.

Eric Davis is a ballplayer again.

A week of work

In the midst of a 15-game hitting streak, Eric Davis has been sizzling the past week:

Date Opp. H/AB RBI Extra

7/21 Sea. 3/4 .. 2 HR

7/22 Oak. 2/5 .. 1 2B

7/23 Oak. 3/5 .. 2 -

7/24 Sea. 1/3 .. 0 2B

7/25 Sea. 3/5 .. 2 HR

7/26 Sea. 1/4 .. 1 -

7/28 Det. 2/4 .. 3 HR

Tot. .. 15/30 .. 11

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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