SAN FRANCISCO – For Orioles rookie Gunnar Henderson, there were reasons to believe he could have a swing like that coming.
One where he hit what proved to be a game-winning homer in the seventh inning in a tie game. One where he did it off the pitcher with the fifth-best ERA in the National League and one that had gone 33 innings without giving up a homer.
One where he produced an exit velocity of 110.7 mph – both the hardest-hit ball by him all year and the hardest allowed by Giants starter Logan Webb, who had an ERA of 1.68 his previous seven starts.
Henderson’s bat has been, slowly at times, trending up. He had an OPS of .740 in May, drove in three runs just a few games earlier and nine of his 17 hits last month went for extra bases. The contact was getting louder more often.
And Webb found out the kid was ready to come through in a big moment.
On a night the Orioles had just four hits, this was big. A 410-foot blast for a 3-2 lead in the seventh that became a 3-2 win nine outs later. O’s pitching made three runs enough on this night. Their first game after their bullpen got torched by Cleveland on Wednesday.
For one night, the Orioles had another win, Gunnar maybe the biggest hit of his MLB career to date and O’s pitching restored order on the mound.
“Best swing of the year from him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just love the way he was on time with the fastball there. Got his foot down and really stayed through it. An enormous hit for us against a tough starter. I know he felt great after that swing.”
Said Henderson: “Yeah, I’m starting to feel really good in the box and that was definitely, probably one of the best swings I’ve had. Felt like that was a big step in the right direction.
“Just been trusting my swing and trusting my approach and feel like that’s the biggest thing."
Biggest hit of his 86-game MLB career?
“I would say so, yeah. I think so. It’s hard to remember all the other ones. Seems like so long ago,” said Henderson, who is just 21.
Hasn’t been that long, kid, but welcome to the game-winning homer club.
Before the game, in a one-on-one interview, Henderson talked about his renewed confidence in the box. He cited a two-run double he had hit in the first inning on Tuesday off Cleveland’s Cal Quantrill as a really meaningful swing to him. He smoked that ball 103.4 off the bat.
“Got a slider/cutter and it broke into me and I was able to turn on it pretty quick, without having to sell out for it. I felt like that was a step in the right direction of getting my swing back to the way it normally was. When I was going through swing trouble earlier, my body wasn’t moving the way I wanted to. But that time, good muscle-memory and the swing was where it needed to be."
Henderson said he has gotten some great advice from his teammates during his early-season struggles.
“You have to go out there and really believe in yourself at this level,” he said he was told often. “That is the thing that people may take for granted. You have to believe you are here for a reason and it’s not a mistake that you made it here. Sometimes got caught up in that. You can struggle up here and it can feel like, ‘Am I going to come out of this?’ I learned how to go through that.”
Knowledge that was put to good use in the seventh inning last night.
Cobb to face the Orioles: It was March of 2018 when the Orioles signed free agent right-hander Alex Cobb to a four-year deal that never did quite work out for the pitcher or the team.
Even before his first season as an Oriole was over, he went from playing with a team that had designs on contending to one that would be quickly transitioning to a rebuild. Cobb got hurt and later was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on Feb. 2, 2021 for infielder Jahmai Jones.
Cobb, who is 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA for the San Francisco Giants this season, will face the O’s tonight in Game 2 of the series at Oracle Park.
From 2018 through 2020, Cobb went 7-22 with an ERA of 5.10 in 41 games for the Orioles.
“Just frustrating. We had such high hopes going into the 2018 season, as a team and as an organization. … It got off to such a bad start. So many things wish we could have done differently, Before you knew it, it was trade deadline time and parts were being broken down and sold,” he said Friday in the Giants clubhouse.
He said now though, he could see then that some better days were ahead for the Orioles.
“Towards the tail-end of my time there, you could see all the talent coming,” he said. “You know it was a frustrating little gap that was I part of. Kind of missed out on times when the team was really rolling early on and then during the rebuild you could see with some of the prospects coming they were going to be very talented. With the new front office that they brought in you knew they were going to be able to help groom the kids coming up and teach them, with all the analytics coming to the forefront of that organization, they were going to be in good hands."
Cobb said he’s very impressed this season by the team he will face tonight.
“Excited to face them. One of the better teams in baseball right now. We don’t see them as much being on the East Coast, but you see the record and the talent they have in that lineup. To have that record in the AL East, it speaks for itself. There are no off days or rollover days in that division, you are fighting every night," Cobb said.
Final notes: Right-hander Dean Kremer threw six strong innings Friday night, allowing just two runs and improving to 6-2 with a 4.43 ERA as the bullpen combined to get the last nine outs.
In his last six starts, Kremer is 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA and the team is 5-1 those games. O’s starting pitchers have four quality starts in the past six games, good for an ERA of 3.13 in that span. They have 11 quality starts the last 23 games. The Orioles 15-3 on the year when getting a quality start.
The Orioles are 8-2 when tied after six innings and 11-6 in one-run games. They are 19-9 on the road and 11-4 their past 15 road games.
Baltimore ended a three-game losing streak in series-openers are now 14-5 in such games.
Henderson’s homer was just the fourth by the club in the past eight games.
San Francisco entered this weekend with four series wins its last five and a 11-5 record in the last 16 games.