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With Davis launching them, Orioles take flight

Slugger's three-homer game another chapter in emergence of player and team @RichardJustice

Chris Davis hits home runs that make you stop what you were doing and wait for the replay. And then you want to watch it again.

He hits no-doubters, that is, towering, majestic drives that make you wonder how far away it'll land. There was a time when the Texas Rangers thought he might hit more home runs than Josh Hamilton, and that's a conversation still worth having.

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When Davis is going good, there's almost no one in all of baseball you'd rather watch swing a bat. His swing is picture perfect, and thanks to a combination of size, strength and quickness, he generates incredible power.

Did you catch those three home runs Tuesday against the Pirates? That first one was sort of a low liner that simply kept gaining velocity and altitude. His second one was nothing special by his usual standards.

As for the third one, here's hoping Chris keeps the video. Years from now, he can show it to his grandkids and tell 'em there was a time when the old man hit 'em farther than almost anyone.

Whenever I see Davis put on a show like this, I think Orioles manager Buck Showalter ought to be out there at home plate waiting to shake his slugger's hand.

If there's a better story of a manager resurrecting a guy's career than this one, I haven't heard it. Davis was a mess when he got to the Orioles in 2011. He knew the Rangers had lost confidence in him, and even worse, Davis seemed to have lost confidence in himself.

It's funny how these things work out. He grew up hoping to play for the Rangers, and when they drafted him in 2006, it was a dream come true.

The Rangers fell in love with him, too, and when he hit 38 home runs in those first two seasons (2008-09), all was right with the world.

And then something strange happened in the 2008 Draft. The Rangers used their first-round pick on a kid named Justin Smoak.

So were the Rangers still committed to Chris Davis? That kind of stuff will get in a kid's head, especially in a sport in which dealing with failure is one of the keys to success.

Regardless, the Rangers did Davis a favor by trading him to the Orioles in 2011. There, he hooked up with the man who'd been the Texas manager when he was drafted.

Showalter essentially told Davis he believed in him -- and the Orioles believed in him -- in a way the Rangers never had. He also told him that he would give him a chance to play, but that Davis had to do his part. In other words, he had to produce.

That he has done. He has an .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 361 games with the Orioles, and is coming off a season in which he led the Majors with 53 home runs and 138 RBIs and finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player balloting.

This season has been more of a struggle. He started slowly and then missed 13 games while recovering from a pulled muscle in his side. Those three home runs were a huge step in the right direction for both the Orioles and Davis.

How do you like them now? They're finally whole, with Manny Machado back and Davis healthy. Nelson Cruz adds depth that didn't have in their lineup a year ago when they missed the playoffs.

Incidentally, did you see Machado's hand-first, curving slide at home plate in the fifth inning? That was one of those plays that remind you that this kid is already one of the really elite players in the game and on the road to doing more great things.

Is there a team you like more than the Orioles in the AL East? Baltimore's lineup will wear out plenty of pitching this summer. Baltimore's defense -- that is, Machado at third, J.J. Hardy at short and Adam Jones in center -- is going to win games.

As for the pitching, Chris Tillman has emerged as a true No. 1 starter. Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen have been solid. If Ubaldo Jimenez gets on a roll and if Kevin Gausman finds a comfort level in the big leagues, this could be a great summer for baseball in Baltimore.

To have a game on Tuesday in which Davis does his thing, in which Gonzalez pitches well and in which Machado shows off his athleticism could be an indication that there's more to come.

We know this: No manager gets more from his roster than Showalter. We know also that no general manager is more creative at finding talent and shoring up the roster than Dan Duquette. It seems the AL East has a different feel every few days. At the moment, though, the Orioles have plenty of reason to feel good.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Baltimore Orioles, Chris Davis, Miguel Gonzalez, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Tillman