It was a puzzling move even as it happened: Gunnar Henderson breaking for second base after his leadoff single in the ninth, only to be caught stealing and vaporize the Orioles’ potential rally as quickly as the umpire signaled he was out.
The explanations did nothing to quell the mystery. Manager Brandon Hyde, who reserves his shortest answers for moments of frustration, simply said there was “a little miscommunication there.”
Henderson, who said it was Hyde’s call, had been on first as Aaron Hicks worked the count to 2-1 and said Jose Leclerc “had some long times to the plate, so it was a good opportunity.”
“We had something going right there, and I thought it was a good time to try and take it,” said Henderson, who stole 10 bases during the regular season and was caught three times. “Didn’t happen. Hate that it didn’t happen. If it did, then better chance of scoring.”
It took nearly a day for the truth to come out. Hyde explained Sunday afternoon that “we just missed a hit-and-run there,” indicating that Hicks was meant to swing but didn’t. When Henderson was thrown out, he didn’t look at the tagger, or the umpire, but back at home plate, slightly bewildered. The Fox broadcast showed Hyde appearing to use an expletive while asking what happened.
“That’s just something we’ve done a lot this year,” he said of the hit-and-run. “Unfortunately, Hicksy has been wonderful for us this entire season in so many ways. We do put runners in motion. We don’t hit a ton of homers, trying to generate offense a little bit at times. And we bunt; we do the little things. And yesterday, we just missed a sign in the ninth inning there. But that didn’t cost us the game. We had opportunities to score before that.”
That offers a resolution, at least briefly, to an episode that was as curious as it was out of character for an Orioles team that has been consistent in both its performance and messaging this year. The consequences, at least in that ninth inning, were severe.
By FanGraphs’ win expectancy model, only Anthony Santander’s gut-punch double play in the eighth with two on and nobody out had a more significant negative impact on the Orioles’ chances of winning than Henderson’s stolen base attempt.
Henderson’s single gave the Orioles a 33.3% chance of winning in that model. After he was caught stealing by All-Star Jonah Heim — who tied for fourth in caught stealing above average this year — that dropped to 11%.
The Orioles might have lost either way. It might not end up being a big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially if they bounce back and head to Texas with this series tied.
Even the smallest bit of disconnect on a team that has rightfully touted and been lauded for its unity, its attention to detail and its loose clubhouse environment — when it occurs at this time of year, on this stage — feels strange. The Orioles won 101 games with plenty of gears turning in unison to make it happen. If this is the grain of sand that knocks that off its equilibrium, it will be notable for not just how impactful it was but how out of character it was for this group.