It is always fun when you can pinpoint the moment that everything changed. With Chris Davis, we can pinpoint it to a single at bat.
The date: August 18, 2012. Up to that point, Chris Davis was a mild-mannered pseudo slugger who would occasionally knock one out of the park and, more often, swing wildly and miss. It had been that way since he was a rookie in Texas. I remember a game in Kansas City, August of that year, when he absolutely mashed a home run off Joel Peralta. The swing was perfect. The home run was majestic. The feeling was: Geez, this guy’s ridiculously strong. He could hit 40 or 50 some year.
The career was a disappointment for a good while after that … well, the list of big corner infielders with ridiculous power who don’t quite make as stars it is a very long one. Heck, the best Boston Red Sox chat board is named for one (Sam Horn). There’s Calvin Pickering, Scott Thorman, Ryan Shealy, Greg Pirkl, Dallas McPherson, Wes Helms, Damon Minor … well, there are too many to choose from. Davis bounced up and down with Texas, had some injury issues, and when he was traded to Baltimore for Koji Uehara and some cash, nobody really noticed much.
And last year, up to that August 18 date, Chris Davis was doing pretty much what he had always done. He was hitting .251 with a lamentable .302 on-base percentage and 18 home runs. That day seemed like pretty much any other day. He blooped a single in the first off Detroit’s Rick Porcello and then he struck out in the fourth. He came up with two runners on in the seventh, with the game still scoreless, and on a 1-1 pitch he hammered a long opposite field home run. “It wasn’t even a bad pitch,” Porcello moaned after the game. The Orioles won 3-2.
There was no reason to believe that at-bat would change everything. But ever since then, Chris Davis has been different. It’s like a comic book thing. He homered again the next day. Four days later, he hit three home runs against the Blue Jays. A week later, three hits in a game. A week later, another three hits. The batting average climbed. On September 26, he began with a double-play groundout and a strikeout, but then he homered off Carlos Villanueva and then homered off Chad Beck.
He homered again the next day. And the next day. And the next day. And, yes, the next day. And, absolutely, the day after that as well. The season ran out on him. After that August 18 at-bat, he hit .323, slugged .712, mashed 15 homers in 36 games.
And then, well, you know what he’s doing this season.
In his last 118 games, he’s hitting .330 with 31 doubles, 46 homers, 109 RBIs, 86 runs.
This happens in baseball sometimes — stars emerge from seemingly nowhere. David Ortiz was released by the Twins before he became a megastar. Andre Thornton was discarded three times before he became a sturdy and solid slugger for Cleveland. Jose Bautista was dumped, sheesh, a half dozen times before he became one of the best hitters in the game. Cecil Fielder went to Japan and returned as a home run champion. Kevin Mitchell was traded twice before he hit 47 homers and won the MVP for San Francisco.
Chris Davis poked a fastball the other way for a home run in late August, and somehow, something clicked.
Our buddy Craig Calcaterra has spent much of Monday morning pointing out the skeptics who are taking to Twitter to scream “steroids” — the sad but inevitable reaction to any sustained power run these days. It’s a rotten deal; Chris Davis has done absolutely nothing to draw such suspicion. Anyway, he seems to be handling it well. When someone on Twitter named @MichiganMagic1 asked him if he was on steroids, Davis replied succinctly. “No,” he wrote.