Chris Davis' walk-off blast grows O's momentum

BALTIMORE, Md. – As hot as Chris Davis has been, it didn’t matter which arm Pat Venditte used.

Before Davis stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning to face Venditte, the Oakland Athletics' switch-pitching phenomenon, he turned to Buck Showalter and cracked a joke.

“You think I should get a double earflap helmet and just stand right behind home plate?” Davis asked the Baltimore Orioles manager.

When you’re as locked in as Davis, you can afford to crack wise. To hell with the tie game. To hell with the wild-card race. To hell with the sellout crowd.

As fate would have it, Venditte, who started the ninth inning pitching lefty to left-handed hitter Gerardo Parra, then went righty to face right-handed hitting Adam Jones, turned back to the southpaw side to battle the lefty-swinging Davis. The slugging first baseman, who has been leaving the yard more frequently than a dog with ADHD and already had homered in the game, proceeded to launch a 2-2 slider from Venditte over the right center-field wall, which gave the Birds a huge, 4-3 victory in front of 44,000-plus at Camden Yards.

If you subscribe to the tenets of traditional baseball mathematics, having Venditte pitch lefty to Davis was the right thing to do. If, however, you’ve been paying attention to the havoc Davis has been wreaking on left-handed pitchers lately, it was dead wrong.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, in six seasons prior to 2015, Davis had posted a pedestrian .726 OPS against left-handed pitching. This season, however, that number has jumped to .946. Just how good has Davis been against southpaws this year? His OPS is actually higher against lefties than against righties -- by 69 points. It’s also 152 points higher than that of Seattle’s Kyle Seager, whose .794 OPS is the AL’s second-best lefty/lefty mark. In Friday’s series opener at Camden Yards, Davis went 3-for-6, with all three hits coming against lefties, including a go-ahead, two-run bomb that landed on Eutaw Street. So what in the name of Lefty Driesell is going on?

“A lot of it is experience,” Davis said while standing in front of his locker after his game winner, the Orioles’ second walk-off homer in as many nights (it was the first time since 1998 they’ve had back-to-back walk-off bombs). “The more at-bats you have against left-handers, the better you understand what they’re trying to do and the more you learn about yourself.”

He has learned that less is more.

“I’m not going up there and trying to yank everything," Davis said. "I’m not necessarily trying to hit the ball the other way. For me, it’s just been about settling down and taking what they give me. I’m just trying to get a pitch out over the plate and not do too much.”

As a result, he’s doing plenty.

Including Saturday’s walk-off, Davis has nine home runs off southpaws this season, the most of any left-handed hitter in baseball. After hitting .188 against lefties last year, he has spiked to .314 this season. No stranger to the strikeout -- Davis’ 145 whiffs are the most in MLB -- he is fanning far less against lefties (26.7 percent K rate) than against righties (32.6 percent). All of which is to say, Pat Venditte might have been better off keeping his glove on his left hand when Davis stepped into the box -- not that it really matters, given the way the O’s slugger has been hitting.

In 27 games since the All-Star break, Davis has 15 homers, the most in the majors (true to Davis’ approach, 11 of them have come on pitches on the outer half). His .814 slugging percentage is also the best in baseball.

Most importantly, he is almost singlehandedly keeping the O’s within striking distance of the postseason: His walk-off Saturday gave a recently scuffling Baltimore team its first back-to-back wins in August and, in the process, moved the Birds to just a half-game behind the Angels for the second AL wild-card spot.

Said Showalter after the game: “Chris seems to be dialing up whatever we need to get over the hump.”

As for Davis, he’s loving every minute of it.

“Any time you’re winning, it’s a lot of fun, especially when you do it the way we’ve done it the last couple nights,” he said. “You feel like you really picked your team up when they needed you most.”

For the Orioles to have a shot at playing in October, he’ll have to continue picking them up.