After Oriole Park sat silent for six months and the Orioles spent the past seven weeks in Sarasota, Fla., preparing for the season, manager Buck Showalter believed his players needed the “pickup” that only a Camden Yards sellout crowd could give them in Friday's home opener against the Minnesota Twins.
But it was first baseman Chris Davis who supplied the big lift, providing the home crowd with a memorable Opening Day fireworks display in the Orioles' 9-5 comeback victory as he continued his assault on baseball's record books.
No major league player has begun a season with better run production numbers, and a boisterous sellout crowd bore witness to history as Davis delivered an opposite-field, game-winning grand slam in the eighth inning that led to a raucous curtain call.
“It's one of those ‘I really want us to deliver' days of the year,” Showalter said. “You think of everybody that's kind of built their day around today. … Just the feeling in the ballpark was a pickup.”
Davis drove in a career-high five runs on the day, giving him 16 RBIs this season, the most of any player through his team's first four games since RBIs became an official stat in 1920, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That shattered the record of 12 set by the St.Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire (1998) and Philadelphia Phillies' Dolph Camilli (1935).
Davis also became just the fourth player in major league history to homer in his team's first four games — joining Willie Mays (1971), McGwire ('98) and Nelson Cruz (2011).
“I don't think anybody has,” center fielder Adam Jones responded when asked whether he had ever seen such an offensive tear. “Whatever he's done in these first four games has been historic.”
The Orioles (3-1) won their 11th home opener in their past 13 tries after opening the season by winning two of three in Tampa Bay. With an announced 46,653 Friday, the Orioles have sold out every home opener since Camden Yards opened in 1992.
The Orioles trailed 5-4 before a five-run eighth inning, capped by Davis' slam off the first pitch from left-handed reliever Tyler Robertson.
It was the Orioles' first game at Camden Yards since the towel-waving hysteria of the first two games of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, and the players felt a buzz in the ballpark.
“It's awesome,” Davis said. “That was big for us. We had a great series in Tampa and we wanted to come back here and keep that rolling. To see everybody out there and kind of reminisce on the playoff game last year and that kind of atmosphere, we wanted to give them a win and we definitely did.”
Davis' grand slam, the second of his career, came right after Jones tied the game with an RBI off reliever Casey Fien after the Twins walked Nick Markakis intentionally to load the bases. That walk was not lost on Jones, who is 10-for-19 through the first four games of the season.
“Doesn't make me happy,” said Jones, who also had an RBI double in the fifth inning. “Makes me kind of mad and want to get them, and I'm just glad I was able to do it.”
Davis then took Robertson's 86-mph fastball over the outside part of the plate into the left-field stands for his 11th homer in his past 11 regular-season games dating to last season, an Orioles record. He has driven in at least three runs in each of the season's first four games.
“When you leave the ball up to a guy, especially when they're hot, they're going to hit it hard somewhere,” Robertson said. “I mean, he barely swung and he hit that ball out. He's just on fire right now.”
Making his third straight start in a home opener, Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta struggled, allowing five runs on seven hits over five-plus innings. He struck out five and walked two. While Arrieta looked strong early, he couldn't get key outs.
A four-run fourth inning was most costly for Arrieta, who was one strike away from getting out of the inning unscathed, ahead of Chris Parmelee with a 1-2 count before Parmelee slapped a full-count, two-out single up the middle that tied the game at 1.
Brian Dozier followed with a two-run triple to right, and Eduardo Escobar's single past diving second baseman Ryan Flaherty up the middle gave the Twins a 4-1 lead.
“I started out really strong today,” Arrieta said. “But there's things I would have liked to do a little bit better, established a few more things earlier in the game and minimize the damage. That's the thing for me, to not let the inning get out of hand like it did in the fourth. Offensively, we battled really well and pulled out a huge victory.”
Trailing 4-2, the Orioles tied the game in the fifth inning.
Jones hit a double over Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks, scoring Markakis from first base to cut the Orioles' deficit to one. Jones moved to third on the throw home, which skipped past catcher Ryan Doumit, then he scored on Davis' sacrifice fly to center to tie the game.
Orioles pitcher Tommy Hunter, who played with Davis coming up through the Texas Rangers' minor league system, might have been the only one in the ballpark not awed by Davis' hot start.
“I've seen it before,” Hunter said. “When that son of a [gun] starts going opposite field, ... you better watch [yourself]. He's seeing the ball the size of a watermelon right now. It's pretty obvious. Those balls are 10 inches off the plate. He's just flicking it.”