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The 2014 season had not been particularly kind to last year's major league home run champion before Tuesday night. Chris Davis had a breakout season last year, leading the major leagues with 53 home runs, 138 RBI and 370 total bases. But with a quarter of this season in the books, he'd amassed just three home runs, missed 12 games due to an oblique strain and was slugging a mere .365. He doubled the first of those two figures in Pittsburgh Tuesday night, hitting three home runs in the Orioles' 9-2 victory over the Pirates.
Remarkably, Davis didn't hit his first home run until the fifth inning Tuesday night, striking out and singling in his first two at-bats. The game was still close when he came to the plate with a man on second and no outs in the fifth for his third confrontation with Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano. He hit the first pitch he saw into the right-field stands to expand the Orioles' lead to 5-1. The next pitch he saw came from Jared Hughes in the seventh and it again landed in the outfield stands, this time further around toward center, a solo shot that made it 7-1. Davis took it easy on Jeanmar Gomez in the ninth, taking ball one before connecting for home run number three (seen above), a two-run shot that set the final score.
That performance was the second three-homer game of Davis's career, the first coming in a 6-4 Orioles win over the Blue Jays at Camden Yards on August 24, 2012. In that game, Davis homered in his first three at-bats (two solo shots off Carlos Villanueva and a two-run homer off Steve Delabar), but struck out against Brad Lincoln in his fourth trip. It was also the just second three-homer game of the 2014 season, Ryan Braun having provided the first back on April 8. Coincidentally, the first two three-homer games of last season (there were eight total) occurred on April 7 and May 19, each exactly one day earlier than the first two such games this year.
Davis was 0-for-7 in his last two games over the weekend, but told Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne after Tuesday night's game that he worked out some kinks in batting practice before the game, suggesting that he believes his three-homer performance could mark a turning point in his season.
"I got up here early today to hit on the field and just kind of work on some things," Davis told Palmer and Thorne. "I just felt like my body was a little bit disconnected. I felt like my hands were all over the place, really out in front, and my lower half wasn't really working. So, I got a little synced up in early BP and it just kind of clicked for me." Despite his early struggles, Davis has posted a career-low strikeout rate and a career-high walk rate to this point in the season, but his power, a constant throughout his career, appeared to be missing. That suggests a mechanical problem. If Davis has fixed that, it could be bad news for the Orioles' upcoming opponents and very good news for the Orioles, who, after their win and the Yankees' 6-1 loss to the Cubs, moved into first place in the AL East.