Davis, O's take Tigers for a ride 2 HRs in 6-4 victory sweep aside Detroit, boost hit streak to 17

Wild-card deficit at 8

Key's struggle allows 4-0 lead to dissipate

July 31, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- His actions are all there. The wristy, lightning swing that manager Ray Miller says makes him "an electric player." The explosive first step that makes him a base-stealing threat and a reliable presence on defense. Yesterday against the Detroit Tigers, the return of Eric Davis continued.

The Orioles caught a ride.

Given an increasingly rare start in right field, Davis crushed two home runs worth three RBIs in what concluded as a 6-4 victory and a three-game sweep for the Orioles before 22,915 at Tiger Stadium. His latest breakout enabled him to tie his career-high 17-game hitting streak set in 1986, also in July during Davis' first full season with the Cincinnati Reds. He has since passed through three clubhouses and a life-threatening duel with cancer.

"I'm not trying to explain it," Davis said. "I'm just riding the wave. I feel blessed to come back from all the things I've been through and right now I'm just having fun."

The Orioles revel with him. Yesterday's win came despite a troubled three-inning appearance by Jimmy Key in his first major-league start since May 20. The Orioles lost a 4-0 lead then won for the sixth time this season when tied after six innings.

The victory pushed the Orioles to 17-3 since the All-Star break and brought them within eight games of wild-card leader Boston. Davis' contribution also helped his campaign to be named AL Player of the Month. More significantly, it also has caused the Orioles to see the pending free agent as a component of next year's team.

Davis has allowed little suspense to creep into his 17-game streak. He provided the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the first inning with an opposite-field blast off Tigers left-hander Justin Thompson. Six innings later, with the game tied at 4, he faced hard-throwing right-hander Matt Anderson and turned on him for a two-run shot to left field.

Anderson's fastball is consistently clocked at 100 mph. He fed Davis a belt-high pitch that nearly brought the outfielder out of his shoes.

"I didn't even watch it. As he hit it, I said, 'That's gone,' " Miller said. "When you're on ground level, the ball always makes a real loud sound when he hits it."

Davis indulged himself in a brief celebration. He hesitated before leaving the box then gave a two-hop skip as he bowed his trot into foul territory. More than his 259th career home run, Davis had faced down an intimidating force.

"I hit a home run. I get emotional just like anybody else who hits a home run in a big situation. We had a lead. We lost the lead. And I hit a home run that put us on top. It came off a guy they say throws 100. You've got to be pumped for that," said Davis with a laugh.

Tigers manager Buddy Bell could only state the obvious. "He's really getting his bat speed back."

In his past 20 games, Davis has hit nine home runs with 28 RBIs. Yesterday represented his third multi-homer game this year and his 13th multi-hit game during the streak. Of his previous 49 hits, 20 have been for extra bases. A notorious free swinger often frustrated by high fastballs, Davis has recently narrowed his strike zone and benefited from advantageous counts.

"You just try to get him in the strike zone. If he gets you out of the strike zone, you're going to have problems," Davis said. "You can't be overly aggressive against guys who throw that hard. You've got to make them come in the strike zone."

The Orioles added to Davis' home run with a three-run second inning. Jeffrey Hammonds announced his return to center field with a one-out, two-run triple then scored when Tigers left fielder Luis Gonzalez dropped Mike Bordick's pop fly.

At that point the Orioles had outscored the Tigers 24-2 since trailing 5-0 during the series' first game. However, Key fought himself as well as the Tigers. Three runs in the third inning combined with another off winner Pete Smith (1-3) in the fourth created a tie at 4 and another stage for Davis.

Anderson followed Thompson to start the seventh inning. After a one-out walk to B. J. Surhoff, Davis mashed his 20th home run.

No longer is Davis viewed as a player with colon cancer. Just call him a player.

"That's in the past. I don't worry about that. That was '97. It's '98. But I thank God every day I'm here for '98," he said.

So do the Orioles. Though his struggle with cancer has receded from the clubhouse consciousness, it remains a part of his life. Davis must report next month to receive a periodic check. He will xTC do so until five years have passed since last June's surgery.

"Getting the cancer out of my body was the most important thing," Davis recalled. "I didn't think about whether I was going to come back this year or come back last year. When I did come back, it was just a matter of me being able to sustain my stamina. After taking chemo for 36 weeks, that's the only thing I was concerned about. Was I going to be in shape? Was that going to affect me? How quickly was I going to get tired?"

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