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Richard Justice

Always a class act, Davis now a winning pitcher

Justice: Class act, Davis now a winning pitcher

Always a class act, Davis now a winning pitcher
About the last thing Chris Davis ever expected to do was pitch a game for the Baltimore Orioles. Because he did, he'll remember Sunday as one of the really special days in his career, the day he ended an incredible marathon of a game by pitching the first two innings of his professional career, two scoreless innings, the 16th and 17th, and putting the proper finishing touch on a 6-hour, 17-minute day of great theater.

Davis had a bad day at the plate, going 0-for-8 and striking out five times, but that's not what anyone is going to remember about Sunday. They're going to remember that the Orioles won one of those games for the ages, 9-6, and that when all was said and done, they left Fenway Park as one of the best and most improbable stories in all of baseball.

The Orioles are in first place in the American League East and have the best record in all of baseball at 19-9. Will it last? Are you kidding? Can we save those questions for another day and time?

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After all the heartbreak and disappointment with the Orioles in recent years, let's allow Buck Showalter and his guys to enjoy the ride. The thing about teams like the Orioles, the teams that are still learning how to win, is that they can be transformed right in front of our eyes.

From the moment Showalter took over in Baltimore, he made it clear that the game had to be played a certain way, that things that might have been tolerated before would no longer be accepted.

The Orioles are doing more than winning games. They're building confidence a day at a time, a victory at a time. They haven't played baseball's toughest schedule, but maybe their schedule has been perfect for a club figuring out how to win. We'll know a lot more about the Orioles after a nine-game homestand that begins Monday when the Rangers, Rays and Yankees visit Camden Yards.

Back to Chris Davis. He's one of those guys everyone likes. He's humble and quiet and smart. He doesn't call a lot of attention on himself, and that makes people like him even more.

All he'd ever wanted to be was a Texas Ranger. It's the team he grew up rooting for, the team he hoped and prayed would someday give him a chance. When the Rangers took him in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Chris Davis could have passed for the happiest man on earth. In his hometown of Longview, Texas, they knew their guy was going to be a star someday.

Dreams are really tricky things. Dreams can be elusive, and the tough thing about dreams is that others have them, too. By the time Davis showed up at Spring Training last year, he had to know his days with the Rangers were numbered. He said as much.

His confidence seemed to suffer when the Rangers took another first baseman, Justin Smoak, in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. By the time Smoak was sent to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal in 2010, Davis had been passed on the organizational depth chart by Mitch Moreland. He'd played some third base in his career, and the Rangers considered moving him there permanently. Once the opportunity to sign Adrian Beltre arose, Davis knew where things were headed.

Still, it hurt when it finally happened. Just before the July 31 Trade Deadline last summer, the Rangers sent Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara.

Upon learning of the trade, Davis did something that speaks volumes about what kind of man he is. He walked into manager Ron Washington's office, stuck out his hand and thanked him for the opportunity to play for his favorite team. He tracked down Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and did the same thing.

"They gave me a chance to fulfill a dream," he said. Once the shock faded away, he realized the trade would end up being a good thing for him. The Orioles were building, Showalter was teaching them how to play his way and Davis would have the kind of opportunity every big leaguer dreams of.

Showalter knows how to push buttons, and he probably said something about Texas giving up on him and how he would have a real chance with someone who believes in him. Showalter wrote Davis' name in his lineup card 31 times down the stretch last season, and Davis responded nicely by hitting .276 with nine doubles and two home runs.

Scouts said they've seen Davis grow day by day. He entered Sunday's game hitting .326 with five home runs, and with the Orioles winning again, life was pretty sweet. He was living the dream, even if it wasn't exactly the original dream.

And then Showalter asked him to go to the bullpen and warm up, and he did the most remarkable thing of his career by not just pitching, but by pitching effectively, getting through two innings and earning the victory.

The Red Sox ran out of pitchers, too, and outfielder Darnell McDonald finished up, took the loss and hit into a game-ending double play. Davis had gotten the first out of the inning by striking out Adrian Gonzalez with a very respectable fastball. And when it was over and he was exchanging high fives, Chris Davis again looked like the happiest man on earth.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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