Remember the halcyon days of the All-Star break, when we all thought that Chris Davis was going to crush 70 home runs in one of the most improbable seasons ever? Well, Davis has slowed down since then, power-wise -- his slugging percentage dropped from an absurd .717 in the first half to a more reasonable .530 in the second (it now sits at .653 overall). But Friday night against Toronto, the Orioles' slugger finally put home run No. 50 on the board, taking Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar out to left-center field with a solo shot in the eighth inning to give Baltimore a 4-3 lead in a game the Orioles would go on to win, 5-3. The shot makes Davis the first player since Jose Bautista in 2010 to hit at least 50 homers in a season, and the first Oriole to do it since Brady Anderson walloped 50 in 1996.
You can watch Davis' homer here, courtesy MLB.com:
[mlbvideo id="30577577" width="600" height="336" /]
The homer couldn't have come at a better time for Davis and the Orioles, who had lost three straight and four of their last five coming into Friday night's game. That mini-slide had left Baltimore 2 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot in the American League, with the Yankees and Indians also in front of them. This week's three-game series against the basement-dwelling Blue Jays offered Baltimore a chance to climb the standings once again, especially with New York and Boston going up against each other, but things started poorly, with Jays right-hander Todd Redmond shutting the Orioles out through the first six innings.
Things turned around in the seventh, however, thanks to an RBI double from J.J. Hardy and a two-run double from reserve catcher Steve Clevenger, both off reliever Dustin MacGowan, that tied the game at three. Then Davis, who had struck out and flied out twice in his three prior at-bats, launched the go-ahead homer off Delabar in the eighth. A Danny Valencia RBI single later in the inning provided some insurance, and Jim Johnson threw a scoreless ninth to preserve the win and pick up his American-League best 44th save.
For Davis, the second half of 2013 has been a disappointment relative to his stunning first half. After hitting 37 homers in just 343 at-bats before the All-Star break, Davis has knocked out just 13 in 188 plate appearances since. That's a homer every 14.46 at-bats, compared to a dinger every 9.3 at-bats in the first half. For the record, the single-season mark for home runs per at-bat is held by, of course, Barry Bonds, who hit one every 6.5 at-bats in his record-setting 2001 season. Bonds, Mark McGwire and Babe Ruth are the only players in MLB history to average a home run in nine or fewer at-bats in a season.
What hurt Davis was a weak one-month stretch immediately after the All-Star break, when he hit just .242/.321/.526 in 109 plate appearances through 25 games from July 19 to Aug. 16. He did manage seven homers in that period, but the slowdown cost him any shot at breaking Roger Maris' AL-record 61 homers, as he was on pace to do at the break. It's been a rough month of September, too, with a .250/.340/.432 slash in 50 plate appearances this month going into Friday night's action. The homer Friday was just Davis' third since the calendar flipped to September. The Orioles, too, have had a rough go of it in the second half; Monday's win improved their post-All-Star break record to 25-26, and 7-6 in this month.
The biggest problem for Davis in the second half has been on fastballs. Prior to the midsummer break, he crushed four-seam fastballs to the tune of a .301 average and a .615 slugging percentage, and hit .313 with a .788 slugging percentage on sinkers, picking up 18 of his 37 first-half homers on those two pitches. It's been a different story since July 19, however, with Davis managing just a .220 average and .356 slugging percentage on four-seamers and a .270/.568 mark against sinkers. Left-handers especially have given Davis fits in the second half. He went from hitting .296 with a .667 slugging percentage on four-seamers against left-handed pitching in the first half to a woeful .148/.259 since July 19. Lefties have also been throwing Davis more sliders since the break, and though he's managed a respectable .250 average against that pitch in the second half, that comes with a .375 slugging percentage, a far cry from his .278/.722 line on sliders from left-handers pre-break.
Even with no chance at 61, however, Davis' 50th homer did help him make history. Not only did it tie him with Anderson for the club's single-season record (a mark he'll likely soon own given that there are still 15 games to go in Baltimore's season), but it also made him only the third player in Major League history to hit 50 homers and 40 doubles in a season. The other two are Albert Belle, who hit 50 homers and 52 doubles for the Indians in 1995 in just 143 games, and Babe Ruth, who hit 59 homers and 44 doubles in 152 games for the Yankees in 1921.
Assuming Davis keeps up his current pace of a homer roughly every 15 at-bats, he should be able to tack on four more dingers by season's end. If he can throw one more homer in there, though, he'll finish the season with the most home runs in a single season since Ryan Howard hit 58 in 2006. In the American League, no one has topped 54 homers in a season since Alex Rodriguez hit 57 for the Rangers in 2002. Jose Bautista and David Ortiz both finished with 54 homers in 2010 and 2006, respectively. Most importantly for Davis and the Orioles, though, is that Monday's win helped them keep pace in the wild card, as Tampa and Cleveland both won. New York, meanwhile, lost to Boston, dropping them to two games back.