BALTIMORE -- For nearly a decade, Eugenio Velez owned an obscure place in baseball infamy all to himself. But not anymore. In the annals of Major League history, Chris Davis now stands alone.
By going hitless in five trips to the plate during Baltimore’s 12-4 win over the A’s on Monday, Davis stretched his hitless streak to a Major League-record 49 consecutive at-bats dating back to last season. Davis lined out three times to set the mark, which Velez held since the 2011 season, then struck out looking in his final two at-bats to extend it. All told, his at-bats took center stage on a night the Orioles set some history of their own while snapping a four-game losing streak.
Baltimore tied a franchise mark with three triples in the tilt, and Jonathan Villar (4 RBIs) and Trey Mancini (3 RBIs) both homered and the bullpen enjoyed its best night of the season in support of starter Andrew Cashner to put the Orioles back in the win column, shifting the attention of the announced crowd of 6,585 off Davis by evening’s end. But he was their sole focus for much of it, receiving at least a partial standing ovation each time he stepped into the batter’s box.
“You just feel for him and wish something would fall,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just pulling for him to get a hit and for the ball to hit the outfield grass somewhere. It didn’t. It’s one of those things. You’ve got to stay upbeat and stay positive. He’s battling.”
In that light, Hyde pointed to the three balls Davis struck with upwards of 90 mph exit velocity as signs of progress. Davis hit liners of 92.4 and 90.7 mph for outs off Oakland starter Marco Estrada in the second and third, respectively, and tagged a Yusmiero Petit pitch at 103.5 mph in the fifth, per Statcast, to set the record in the fifth. Combined with the 18 degree launch angle, similarly batted balls come with a .580 expected batting average.
“The first three at-bats were really good,” Hyde said. “So, I'm taking that as a positive moving forward. How about the defense he played? Made a diving play, made a couple really nice plays. He helped us win the game.”
That reception came in stark contrast the one bestowed on Davis during last Thursday’s home opener, when he was booed resoundingly by the home fans. Davis’ last hit came on Sept. 14, 2018, a double against White Sox righty James Shields. Since then, he’s gone 56 plate appearances without a knock, just one away from the big league record set by Tony Bernazard in 1974. Davis is now 0-for-29 in 2019.
Another time, it looked like luck might finally be on Davis’ side. Down 0-2 in the count against Oakland righty Marco Estrada in the third, Davis reached for a changeup and sent it down the right field line. A’s second baseman Jurickson Profar drifted into foul territory to attempt a basket catch, dropping the ball and giving Davis another chance. But Davis lined out on the next pitch to cement his place in baseball lore. Davis’ lineout against Petit was struck with an exit velocity of 103.5 mph and left his bat at an 18-degree launch angle. The expected batting average on such batted balls is .580, according to Statcast.
Davis entered the game ranked tied for third (at-bats) and fifth (plate appearances) among the worst-ever hitless streaks, respectively. Monday night, he surpassed four players -- former Brooklyn Superbas catcher Bill Bergen, Brewers infielder Craig Counsell and Astros infielder Dave Campbell -- on the former list. All compiled hitless streaks of 45 consecutive at-bats. A former utility infielder, Velez put together 46 hitless at-bats from 2010-11 with the Giants and Dodgers.
There are examples of players who recovered from hitless streaks of 40 at-bats or more -- Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile and Tony Bernazard among them -- and went on to enjoy productive careers. But a common thread is shared by many others: they were out of baseball shortly after. Velez technically didn’t end his streak -- he was demoted to the Minors and never appeared in the big leagues again. Bill Bergen, whose dead ball era 45 at-bat streak held for more than a century, lasted two seasons before resorting to independent ball. Craig Counsell retired shortly after his 45 hitless at-bat streak ended in 2011.
The 33-year-old first baseman is under contract with the Orioles through 2022. He has said repeatedly that he won’t quit, and Orioles officials have consistently expressed support for Davis over the past weeks and months. But leading up to Monday, Davis’ ordeal re-captured the attention of a national audience, many of whom remember his recent All-Star form. Winning pitcher Andrew Cashner put it best, saying “The guy used to be one of the most feared hitters in baseball … Everybody in here’s pulling for CD.”
A two-time home run champion (in 2013 and ‘15), Davis hit 126 homers in the three-year stretch that preceded his $161 million contract. He signed it in January 2016, just as an influx of high-velocity arms and infield shifts meant precisely to neutralize sluggers like him were invading the game. It’s resulted in a disastrous stretch for Davis, who has hit .199/.295/.390 since the ink dried on the contract.
“To go through what he's going through, and to still play the defense he's playing and still to have the attitude he has, speaks really highly of his character,” Hyde said. “Tough to put yourself in his shoes and what he's going through.”
Consecutive hitless at-bats, all-time (per Elias Sports Bureau)
Chris Davis, Orioles, 49, 2018-19
Eugenio Velez, Giants/Dodgers, 46, 2010-11
Bill Bergen, Superbas (Dodgers), 45, 1909
Dave Campbell, Padres/Cardinals/Astros, 45, 1973
Craig Counsell, Brewers, 45, 2011
Hitless plate appearances, all-time (Per STATS)
Tony Bernazard, Indians, 57, 1984
Chris Davis, Orioles, 56, 2018-19
Eugenio Velez, Giants/Dodgers, 52, 2010-11
Justin Ruggiano, Marlins, 51, 2013
Robin Ventura, White Sox, 51, 1990
Craig Counsell, Brewers, 50, 2011
Todd Zeile, Orioles/Dodgers, 50, 1996-97
Dann Howitt, A's/Mariners, 50, 1992