Orioles Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz are both home run hitters. And theyâ€™ve both spent a fair amount of time recently flailing, as breaking pitches dive beneath their bats and as eye-high fastballs smoke past them.
But in Monday nightâ€™s win over the Yankees, both Davis and Cruz rediscovered their swings. Each player homered in the 11-3 rout. And both home runs were perfect examples.
Davis wasnâ€™t supposed to play Monday. He entered the game in the fourth inning, after Manny Machado wrenched his knee. His first at-bat of the game didnâ€™t come until the fifth inning. With a full count, Yankee starter Chris Capuano followed the scouting report perfectly. He threw the left-handed giant an off-speed pitch that faded down and away. If Davis hadnâ€™t hit the pitch, catcher Francisco Cervelli might have needed to backhand it off the dirt.
But Davis did connect with his long, looping swing. As Davis finished his swing one-handed, the ball started its journey. The first thing you notice about a Chris Davis home run is its height. Just when your eye expects the baseball to level off and begin its descent, the power that launched the pitch lingers for a few more beats and the ball becomes tiny as it continues to rise.
If baseballs had cameras in them â€“ and how come they donâ€™t? â€“ we would marvel at the distance a Chris Davis home run travels before its fall from the sky. Somehow, thereâ€™s no stat for this, but my guess is that Davisâ€™ blasts take longer to find their apex than nearly any hitter in baseball.
High above Martin Pradoâ€™s head, gravity finally pulled the ball earthward. At last, it landed near the back of the Camden Yards flag court, near Boog Powellâ€™s barbecue stand. When Davis grows old and cultivates a Boog-ian gut, maybe heâ€™ll take over that smoked meat stand in front of the Warehouse.
The ball finally plummeted its final few feet and was smothered by a fan who happily spilled his beer in the effort to corral the freebie. For some reason, the flag court is dominated by beer-drinking men.
In these days of first-place occupation, Baltimore fans pack the ballpark and catch every home run ball before it has the chance to bounce off the concrete walkways or pinball around the bleachers. In lean years past, those homers might bounce four or five times before fans could scamper through the empty sections to retrieve them.
Two innings later, with a 5-3 lead, Nelson Cruz dug into the opposite batterâ€™s box against righthanded Yankee short man Adam Warren. Fresh off surrendering a run-scoring Adam Jones double that left an ugly dent in the left field wall, Warrenâ€™s approach with Cruz was more cautious.
Cruz fought off a two-out, 3-2 Warren pitch, weakly popping a breaking ball the opposite way. Prado, playing Cruz to pull, had a long sprint to make the catch. The ball fell into the Yankee right fielderâ€™s glove, only to roll up his arm as he ran into the wall. It plopped safely to the ground.
Warrenâ€™s next pitch was the kind of meatball that power hitters see in their dreams. A slider that hung high in the strike zone like a pinata, the pitch never had a chance. Eyes wide and hungry, Cruz began his swing. Head still, bat traveling on a perfect plane, with a slight uppercut, bat met ball.
With 34,000 people in close proximity to one another, making a noise that everyone can hear seems impossible. But Cruzâ€™s gunshot of a home run pierced through the crowd noise. Instantly, the only question was how far the ball would travel.
Unlike the Davis home run, Cruzâ€™s ball fizzed through the night air, never more than a few stories high. It looked dangerous, like it might explode on impact. A white trail behind it, the ball zoomed like a comet over the Orioles bullpen in left center field and cruelly settled in the Yankee bullen, where relievers huddled for shelter in a shed.
Davis and Cruz werenâ€™t the only home run hitters Monday night. Jonathan Schoop jumped on the pile in the eighth with a three-run bomb. But Davis â€“ last yearâ€™s home run champion â€“ and Cruz, who is tied for this yearâ€™s lead, were the most remarkable, each hitting his quintessential long ball. If you could somehow bronze three or four seconds in time, these homers â€“ from swing to settlement â€“ could serve as each hitterâ€™s Platonic ideal of a home run.