Crush thrilled in '13 with monster numbers for O's
Slugger led bigs in HRs, rewrote Baltimore's record book with prolific power display
When the Orioles acquired Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter from the Rangers for Koji Uehara on July 30, 2011, Hunter made what seemed at the time to be a bold statement.
"He's going to be good," Hunter said of Davis. "He definitely has the capability to be a superstar if he gets the chance."
It didn't take long for Davis to prove his teammate right.
A player who seemed headed for a journeyman career after a few disappointing seasons spent bouncing between Texas and Triple-A suddenly had an everyday job in the Majors. Davis turned his career around in 2012, producing an .827 OPS and 33 home runs. While some might have suspected that performance to be a fluke, it actually turned out to be a warmup act for one of the most prolific power displays in recent memory.
Davis' 53 home runs in 2013 led the Majors by nine, set an Orioles record and made him only the second player to reach the 50-homer plateau since 2008. He also led the Majors in RBIs (138) and extra-base hits (96), collecting an astonishing 21 more of those than any other player. The 27-year-old joined Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only men to collect 50 homers and 40 doubles in the same season.
It's no wonder the man they call "Crush" received the most All-Star votes in either league, won a Silver Slugger Award and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.
"I really, really struggled for two years. I'm talking below .200, striking out every at-bat," Davis said after winning the Orioles' team MVP award in late September. "I just got to the point where I quit worrying so much about the result, started looking at the work and preparation that went into it. I can't say enough about what it's meant to come in here and play every day."
Davis' list of statistical achievements goes on and on. He hit .286/.370/.634, finishing a close second to Cabrera in slugging percentage and OPS. He slugged .668 at Camden Yards and .728 against right-handed pitchers. He posted an OPS of 1.192 with runners in scoring position and 1.120 in "late and close" situations. For good measure, he had a .996 fielding percentage and was a Gold Glove Award finalist.
The former fifth-round pick told MLB.com in May that his breakthrough came in September 2012, when he hit .337 with eight home runs, the result of better patience and an improved understanding of opposing pitchers.
"There was a point last year where I thought, 'I can compete up here, and I can do it on an everyday basis,'" Davis said. "The success wasn't because I was getting lucky, it was because I worked hard. At the end of last year, that's something I really realized and embraced."
If there were doubts about Davis' ability to carry over that late-season performance into 2013, he erased them quickly and emphatically.
He homered on Opening Day, again in the next game, and again in the next game. He followed that up by crushing an eighth-inning go-ahead grand slam on April 5 against the Twins, joining Willie Mays, Mark McGwire and Nelson Cruz as the only players to go deep in each of his team's first four games. Davis went 9-for-15 with three doubles and a Major League-record 16 RBIs over that span.
"You put him in the Grand Canyon, he'll hit it out," teammate Adam Jones said after the slam.
Davis finished April hitting .348/.442/.728, then posted even better numbers in May and came close in June. He continued to go on long-ball binges, hitting eight in 12 games from May 18-29, seven in nine games from June 12-21 and then going on another four-game streak from July 11-14.
On Sept. 17, Davis clubbed a Ryan Dempster pitch into the center-field seats at Fenway Park to set a new club record of 51, breaking Brady Anderson's mark from 1996. Fittingly for a guy who performed at his best in big situations throughout the year, the shot tied the game in the sixth inning.
"Every once in a while, I do remind myself, I don't want to use the word historic -- I just did -- but every once in a while I go, 'It's pretty cool that I get to watch this,'" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after Davis hit his 50th on Sept. 13. "It's some kind of year he's having, also at first base. He's set the bar really high, not only for other players in the organization, but also for himself. I hope you all are kind to him next year if he goes back to 30 and 101. I think we'd sign up for that in blood. But if I know Chris, he wouldn't."