On April 27 the Orioles were 12--11 and Steve Pearce was packing. He'd been designated for assignment by Baltimore five days earlier, after going 1 for 7 over the season's first two weeks. Pearce knew the drill, having played for four organizations over parts of seven previous seasons—"My wife can pack the house in an hour," he says—but this one especially stung.
Less than a week later first baseman Chris Davis went down with an oblique injury, and Pearce's phone rang. It was Orioles GM Dan Duquette, sounding sheepish.
"Steve, where are you?"
"I'm still in town."
"Good, because things have changed a little bit."
Five months later Pearce stood in the middle of a champagne-drenched locker room, taking in his first clubhouse celebration. The Orioles ran away with the AL East thanks largely to their offense; of their total WAR, Baltimore, which led the AL with 211 home runs, got 71% of its production from its position players, the second-highest figure among playoff teams (the MLB average is 59%). Its defense has been key: The O's also led the league in defensive runs saved, with 49.
Pearce, a 31-year-old journeyman whom the Orioles have waived twice in the past 26 months, has been an unexpected source of both offense and defense. He played just 102 games, roughly 60% of a season, but batted .293 with a .556 slugging percentage, best on the team, and hit 21 home runs. He was worth six wins above replacement, seventh in the AL among hitters. Pearce has made mechanical adjustments, closing his stance and relaxing his arms, but maintains that his breakout (before this season, with many of his appearances coming off the bench or in spot starts, he hit .238) is just a matter of consistent playing time. "It's hard to hit with power when you're not at the plate enough," he says.
Pearce knew coming into the season that he would have to fight for a roster spot, so he made versatility a priority, working daily with infield instructor Dave Anderson. In April he took over at first base for Davis, then shifted to leftfield when Davis returned from his injury. When third baseman Manny Machado sprained his right knee in August, Pearce moved back to first so Davis could play third. He also picked up eight games in right. He's been well above average everywhere.
Through his years as a marginal player on mostly bad teams, all Pearce wanted was to contribute to a contender. "It's not that much fun sitting out there when you're losing every game and you're not playing much," he says. "This is the dream. Hopefully it's not over."
PORTER BINKS (PEARCE)