ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When it came to stopping Orioles first baseman Chris Davis in this week’s season-opening series, the Tampa Bay Rays had few victories.
One of those came in Davis’ final at-bat of Thursday’s 6-3 Orioles victory, when reliever Cesar Ramos’ broke two of Davis’ bats, eliciting cheers from the crowd of 17,491.
“They broke Wonderboy in the last at-bat,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, referring to the mythical Roy Hobbs’ magical bat in the baseball classic “The Natural.” “So I don't know how he's doing to do from here on out. They got two of his bats, but he's got a couple more. Chris is in a good spot right now.”
Davis drove in four runs Thursday — including a two-run homer in the second inning, his third home run in the season’s first three games — culminating a historic offensive display as the Orioles took two of three from a pitching-rich Rays team favored by many to win the American League East.
“This is a tough place to start a season,” Davis said. “Anytime you come in here, you know you’re going to have to just grind out at-bats. Their pitching staff is one of the best. I think it’s something to be proud of, the fact that we scored as many runs in three games as we did and to come out of here with two wins.”
Davis had six extra-base hits (three doubles and three homers) and 11 RBIs in the three-game series (he didn’t reach the 11-RBI mark until the 21st game of last season). He became the second player in Orioles history to homer in each of the season’s first three games (Frank Robinson did it in his triple crown American League MVP season of 1966).
Davis also became the first big league player to drive in 11 runs or more over the first three games of the season since 1935, when Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Dolph Camilli had 12 RBIs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Davis is the first player to record three or more RBIs in the first three games of a season since records became available in 1916.
The last Oriole to drive in 11 or more runs in any series of three games or fewer was Cal Ripken, Jr., who drove in 11 during a two-game series in Seattle on May 28-29, 1996.
“Without Chris Davis we're 3-0,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys hit the ball well against us in a three-game series. That’s the most locked in I’ve ever seen anybody.”
Davis — who took a 2-2 changeup from Rays starter Roberto Hernandez (0-1) over the right-center field fence in the second inning — now has hit 10 homers in his past 10 regular-season games dating back to last season, a club record. He has homered in nine of his last 10 regular season games.
Davis also slapped an opposite-field, two-run double to left-center Thursday to put the Orioles up 4-2 in the sixth inning.
“There are times when you hit pitches that were good pitches,” Davis said. “I think my third at-bat today, the ball I hit to left-center, it was actually a good pitch. When you feel good at the plate and things are going right for you, you’re going to get those hits, so I just try to keep it rolling.”
The game ended in bizarre fashion when the Rays’ ninth-inning rally was quelled with some controversy. Trailing 6-2 after J.J. Hardy’s two-run homer in the eighth, the Rays had two on and no outs in the ninth when Longoria laced a ball into the left-center gap off closer Jim Johnson.
While one run scored to make it 6-3, Longoria was called out for passing Ben Zobrist on the basepaths. Zobrist was in between first and second waiting to see if center fielder Adam Jones would make a play on the ball while Longoria rounded first. Instead of having two runners in scoring position with the tying run at the plate with no outs, it left one baserunner at third on one down. Rays manager Joe Maddon argued the call, but it stood.
After that, Johnson induced a popup from Shelley Duncan and, two batters later, he got James Loney to pop up to third to end the game and earn his second save.
“If they hadn't called it, they would have had a heck of an argument, too,” Showalter said of the call. “We were all watching it. We saw the same thing the umpire did. I haven't seen the replays or whatever. You're going to get an argument either way. We were fortunate.”
The Orioles had their share of tough luck in the top of the ninth, when second baseman Brian Roberts — who had been limited to 115 games over the past three seasons — had to be carried off the field after injuring his right hamstring diving headfirst into second base on a stolen base. He is scheduled for an MRI on Friday.