With another opportunity, Steve Pearce playing key role for the Orioles

After bouncing around early in career, utility player has 20 home runs this season

  • Steve Pearce celebrates in the clubhouse after the Orioles clinched the American League East division title at Camden Yards.
Steve Pearce celebrates in the clubhouse after the Orioles… (Mitchell Layton, Getty…)
September 18, 2014|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

Three weeks into this season, Steve Pearce walked out of the Orioles manager Buck Showalter's office in Toronto, sat down and just stared into his locker.

It was an all-too-familiar feeling for Pearce, who had just been told he was being designated for assignment. The Orioles had an early season roster crunch and needed to add bullpen reinforcements. Pearce, who had just seven at-bats at the time, was the odd man out.

Pearce's hope was that he'd clear waivers, be outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk — where he could receive regular playing time — and eventually rejoin the major league club. But because he was a bench player who could play first base and both corner outfield spots, he also feared his days with the Orioles might be over.

"I was shocked," Pearce said. "I was like, 'Dang. I really didn't even have the chance to do anything.' I had seven at-bats. But at the same time, I understood it. … Obviously, it stunk."

At that point, Pearce definitely didn't expect to be back in orange and black five months later, spraying champagne around the Orioles clubhouse while celebrating both a division title and the best season of his journeyman career.

Three days after the Orioles designated Pearce, first baseman Chris Davis left the game with an oblique injury. Pearce's phone immediately started buzzing with text messages from friends telling him the news. He checked Twitter and shook his head at the timing. His next call was to his agent.

"I told my agent, 'Whatever you can do to get me back there, that's what I want to do,'" Pearce said of returning to Baltimore.

With few options at first base, the Orioles needed Pearce, who refused a waiver claim by the Toronto Blue Jays, briefly became a free agent and then re-signed in Baltimore, rejuvenated with the promise of playing time. After being with five different organizations over seven major league seasons, most of them hindered by injuries, Pearce's third official stint with the Orioles offered opportunity.

Pearce, 31, entered the season with just 17 career homers. In Wednesday night's 6-1 win over Toronto, he recorded his second two-homer game of the season to give him 20 this year. He will go into this weekend's final regular-season home series with four homers in his last four games.

'A guy that you could count on'

Pearce, who might be the poster boy for the Orioles' resilient season, has become one of the most valuable pieces as the club has overcome losses of several key players. When third baseman Manny Machado was lost for the season in August with season-ending right knee surgery, the Orioles shifted Davis from first to third to make room for Pearce in the lineup.

And Pearce's presence is now even more critical as Davis serves a 25-game suspension for a failed drug test.

"Stevie, he's been a big part of it," Showalter said. "It always had a good feel to it, Steve being on the club. A good fit. A guy that you could count on. 'What does the team need? I'll be ready. Appreciate the opportunity. It's an honor to be in the big leagues.' "

Pearce's success hasn't come without trying times. After spending five years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pearce was taken off the team's 40-man roster at the end of the 2011 season. He became a free agent and signed with the Minnesota Twins in the offseason, but was released in the final days of spring training in 2012 right at the same time when he learned his wife, Jessica, was pregnant with the couple's first child.

Pearce considered going to play in Japan, and even thought about life after baseball, signing up to finish his college degree online.

"We didn't know what was going to happen," Jessica Pearce said. "I don't think we thought baseball was over, but it was definitely a thought. … It's definitely a reminder of where we've been."

Now, with the season he has had, he should get some votes for this year's Most Valuable Oriole award, which will be announced Sunday. One qualifier of a player’s value, the advanced stat wins above replacement (WAR), ranked Pearce at a 5.9, the 10th-highest mark among all American League players.

"I think it's that he's just getting consistent at-bats," Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley said. "He's had that, and he really carried us for a month, month and a half. He swung the bat well. He's always capable of it. That's why he's here.

"We said it in the meetings in spring training, ‘This guy is going to give you a good at-bat no matter if it’s 2-0, he goes to 3-2, he’s going to battle and battle. It doesn’t matter if it’s left of right, so what?’ He knows what he’s doing.”

Pearce's entire career had been played as a part-time player. Before this season, he had never received more than 165 at-bats in one season. This year, he has nearly twice that many (323).

So when he was able to rejoin the Orioles this season after Davis' injury, he went into it with a "nothing to lose" mentality.

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