September 15, 2018 was the beginning of the last week that “Kamikaze” by Eminem topped the Billboard 200. More notably, the day before was the last day Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis recorded a hit before April 12, 2019. He was two days shy of his seven-month anniversary with this hitless streak when he singled on a line drive to right field with the bases loaded in the first inning of the 9-5 win against the Boston Red Sox. He ended up going 3-for-5 with four RBI in the game.
Chris Davis and the Remarkable Streak
Almost seven months long. 62 consecutive plate appearances. 54 at-bats. For those who are in the year 2121 and use the bean system, that is 148,417.5 beans (Shout out to Reddit user PacificSquall for calculating how long the fictional unit of time from the popular Netflix show Bojack Horseman is in present-day terms). No matter how one looks at it, it was a very long time. Davis broke the record for the longest hitless streak by eight at-bats. A little comparison of just how bad this streak is — pitchers David Hess, Dylan Bundy, Mike Wright, Jimmy Yacabonis, Mychal Givens, Alex Cobb, and Nate Karns have a combined 48 at-bats in their careers with five hits.
But this story is over, as Davis broke the streak. As if that was not good enough, the day after he broke the streak, he launched a beautiful 408-foot bomb that looked exactly like the Chris Davis of 2013, when he finished third in the AL MVP race with 53 home runs and 138 RBI. Or, for those who prefer, the Chris Davis of 2015 when he hit 47 home runs and had 117 RBI and finished 14th in the AL MVP race. Remember that guy? He is the one who signed a seven-year, $161 million contract before the 2016 season.
After the contract was signed, Orioles fans across the country and around the world were filled with so many conflicting emotions. What Davis were fans going to get for the next seven years? While the 2013 and 2015 versions of Davis were in the MVP conversation, the 2014 version hit a pedestrian .196 (he hit .286 and .262 in 2013 and 2015, respectively) with only 26 home runs and 72 RBI. He also struggled to stay on the field, missing 35 games in 2014.
After the 2014 season, consensus was that the Orioles overpaid but still had a solid power-hitting first baseman. Davis hit .221 with 38 home runs and 84 RBI, but the number that stuck in everyone’s mind was the 219 strikeouts. The MLB record for most strikeouts in a single season was set by Mark Reynolds in 2009, when he struck out 223 times. Ironically enough, Reynolds and Davis were teammates on the Orioles, splitting time at first base, third base, and as the DH in 2011 and 2012.
The number 219 got stuck in everybody’s minds, the most notable of which was probably Davis himself. He began to expand the zone, only compounding his problems. His swing appeared to slow down and each at-bat looked like it was getting harder and harder for him. It became more and more apparent there was something going just by looking at the stats. His strikeout numbers went down, from 219 in 2016 to 195 in 2017 and 192 in 2018, but he also only played 128 games in each of those to seasons compared to 157 in 2016. His batting average dropped from .221 in 2016 to .168 in 2018. The worst part was the home runs were not even there. He only hit 42 in 2017 and 2018 combined. Then came the streak.
The Breaking Point
It became the focal point of the first few weeks of the 2019 season. All the headlines focused on him reaching the record until they became focused on him breaking the record then extending it. Stories broke about Davis breaking down crying in his car (see full SI article about Davis’ struggles here). People were furious that the team was paying him over $21 million a year to strike out. Everything seemed to be coming it a breaking point and the questions was what was going to happen. Was rookie manager Brandon Hyde going to bench him? Would they look at going so far as to buy him out of the contract? Would he ever get a hit?
Apart from the bases being loaded, it was a routine single you see three to four times a game. But after the hit, Davis rounded first and celebrated with a resounding clap. The entire Orioles dugout stood and cheered for him. Even the crowd in Fenway Park was cheering for him. As he stood on first, Davis signaled to the dugout that he wanted that ball.
After the first night, there was some hesitation to say Davis was back. It was one game. Then he went out and hit a home run the next night. There sample size was still small, but the confidence level was increasing. After missing two games due to illness, Davis came in as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the eighth. In his first plate appearance in the 11th inning, he started a two-out rally with a single to center field. He eventually came around to score the winning run on a Joey Rickard double. It is safe to say at this point that Chris Davis is back.
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