Gunnar Henderson swung at the seventh pitch thrown to him tonight and moved closer to ranking first on more Orioles all-time rookie lists. Kyle Bradish was handed the ball and demonstrated again why he should be the first starter in the playoffs.
Henderson’s home run over the center field fence, a 400-foot shot leading off the bottom of the first inning, provided an immediate lead for the Orioles, and Bradish shut out the Nationals through the eighth in a 1-0 victory before an announced crowd of 20,823 at Camden Yards.
Their division lead is 2 1/2 games with the Rays defeating the Red Sox 9-7, and the magic number is two to clinch it.
The 98 wins are the most since 1997.
The champagne celebrations could reach two as early as Wednesday.
A cutter from Nats starter Josiah Gray was clocked at 107.2 mph off Henderson’s bat, which he raised above his head while watching the ball soar toward the seats. His 65 extra-base hits tie Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. for most by an Orioles rookie. His 28 homers are tied with Ripken for second behind Ryan Mountcastle’s 33 in 2021.
Henderson has two of the Orioles’ four leadoff home runs this season.
Bradish registered his 18th quality start after tossing a season-high eight innings and limiting the Nationals to three singles. He struck out four batters, including Ildemaro Vargas on a curveball to end the seventh.
Manager Brandon Hyde let Bradish keep going, and he retired the side in order in the eighth to finish at 104 pitches. His ERA is down to 2.86. His last two starts have produced 14 scoreless innings.
"Feels awesome," Hyde said of Bradish returning for the eighth. "I haven't had too many of those. And his stuff never wavered. His stuff was still the same in the eighth as it was in the third. And you saw the emotion coming off the mound. It's a big deal for these guys to go deep in the game like that."
"Skip asked me how I was feeling, I said I felt great, so able to complete that inning was big," Bradish said. "I know the bullpen's beat up, so last few starts our guys have been huge."
Yennier Cano struck out the side and notched his eighth save, and the Orioles had their 11th shutout. Their last three starters have gone 7 1/3, seven and eight innings, with only five relievers used.
The Orioles have outscored Washington 6-0 in three games this season. They hadn't shut out the same opponent in three consecutive games since the Yankees Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2016.
Hyde didn't send his players out of the clubhouse until calling a team meeting to announce the passing of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. Hyde began his postgame media session by offering his condolences.
"I think a lot of guys played tonight with a heavy heart," said Hyde, who always appreciated having Robinson attend his introductory press conference after being hired as manager. "It was emotional before the game to hear the news. The time he spent with us last year, especially coming into the clubhouse after he threw the first pitch, that was really inspirational, inspirational for our players. He's an icon in this game, an icon in the city. There's not many of those. We feel terrible for his family."
Hyde said the Orioles wanted players to find out from them rather than social media or the moment of silence.
"We talked about an hour before the game," Hyde said, his eye moist and his voice cracking.
"I never met him before, he doesn't know me, and I'm some guy from Chicago who just gets hired. For him to take the time out to show support, and he showed support the entire time I've been here. I have a framed picture of him in my office that he wrote a nice thing and a signature, and I know he watched us a lot. Last year when he came, he knew all of our players. He watched every night, he was really happy with how our team was playing. I know he enjoyed watching us."
"It was definitely sad news," Bradish said. "He means so much to the city and this team. He's been around us for the past few years. So getting that news right before the game was tough, but we were able to squeak out a victory and it's only right that the defense was working today."
"I got to meet Brooks last year when he came and just an all-around great person," Henderson said. "He loves the Orioles and just everything that he's done for the Orioles, even off the field, you couldn't name a better guy. Hate to hear it, but I know he's looking down at us."
The Nationals put the first two runners on base in the second and failed to score after a fly ball, force play and grounder. Keibert Ruiz and Luis García singled in the fourth and Bradish struck out the next two batters on a cutter and slider.
Ruiz walked with one out in the sixth and Joey Meneses hit into a 6-3 double play to leave Bradish at 80 pitches.
Bradish retired the last seven batters and 13 of 14. He received a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout for the final time.
"I didn't really think he had it going early," Hyde said. "I thought they took some good at-bats against him, laying off some breaking balls down, but that's so impressive. Late September, pennant race and go eight shutout innings, and not much hard contact the entire night. Just got really good stuff. The sinker has been a game-changer for him, and now he has command of it to both sides of the plate. Two breaking balls. And obviously the cutting fastball that he has that's 96. It's special stuff. And changeups, too. So he's just becoming a complete pitcher.
"Command has improved so much in the last year and a half. That's why he's turning out these lights-out performances."
"It seemed like it was weak contact all the time and fundamental plays on defense, and I feel like he's been doing that it seems like all year," Henderson said. "It's been really fun to play behind him. Just can't appreciate him enough for going out there and just going eight strong."
Gray allowed one run and five hits in six innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts. He was done after 98 pitches and lowered his ERA to 3.91.
Austin Hays and Adam Frazier singled with two outs in the second inning. Frazier stole his 11th base to tie his career high, but Ramón Urías struck out.
Frazier led off the fifth with a walk and Urías singled, but Henderson struck out and Adley Rutschman grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Aaron Hicks walked with two outs in the sixth and Cedric Mullins flied to shallow left field.
Robert García entered in the eighth and got into immediate trouble with Henderson’s infield single and Rutschman’s walk. Anthony Santander grounded into a double play and Henderson was thrown out trying to steal home.
One run was enough for the Orioles, on their first homer in six games.
"Feel great, continuing to learn what kind of pitcher I am," Bradish said. "How to set up pitches, set up hitters, read swings, so that helps. But definitely feel locked in."
Asked what kind of pitcher he is, Bradish smiled and said, "Different every game."
Tonight marked only the second time in club history that the Orioles won 1-0 with the only run scoring on a leadoff homer. Nick Markakis hit one Aug. 3, 2014 against the Mariners.
It happened tonight with Henderson starting at shortstop. He'll move to third base in other games. The left side of the infield, where Orioles legends have roamed.
"It's some of the best to every do it," Henderson said, "and to be able to be behind them and just kind of fill their shoes has been really fun, and just following in their footsteps has been phenomenal."
* Triple-A Norfolk lost to Durham 10-5 in Game 1 of the International League’s best-of-three championship series.
Coby Mayo tied the game with a two-run double in the third and Connor Norby hit a go-ahead solo homer in the fifth. Norby has three hits.
Lewin Díaz hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
Bruce Zimmermann allowed one run and two hits in two innings, with one walk and two strikeouts. Garrett Stallings was charged with three runs in five innings, striking out eight, and Nick Vespi was charged with four runs in one-third.