PHOENIX — Three hundred and sixty-six days later, Gunnar Henderson lost his headwear again.

The first time was immediately iconic, a welcoming shot to the big leagues in the form of a helmet-falling home run in his debut. Henderson swung so hard his batting helmet slipped off his head, exposing the youthful locks of a 21-year-old phenom.

On Friday, the still images won’t be so dramatic. Yet in all of Henderson’s time in the major leagues — he arrived with the Orioles one year and one day ago — the now 22-year-old infielder may not have made a more stunning defensive play than the unconventional double play he turned in the fourth inning of Baltimore’s 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He covered 106 feet, racing into left field to find Nick Ahmed’s popup. Henderson completed the basket catch, back turned to home plate, and then turned toward the infield. That’s when his hat fell off — which, at this point, seems to be a given for any standout play of his.

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Henderson then noticed Corbin Carroll, one of the fastest players in baseball, racing toward home plate. Henderson fired. Carroll trucked. The ball traveled at 90.2 mph while Carroll raced at 31.1 feet per second.

And Carroll was out.

“Catching pop flies like that just kind of comes instinctively,” Henderson said in his modest way.

For all of the highlight-worthy plays Henderson makes in the batter’s box — and he makes plenty — the defensive play underscored Henderson’s well-rounded ability and could serve as a centerpiece for his American League Rookie of the Year candidacy. It came against Carroll, another young star who figures to be the front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year award, and for the moment seemed to be a game-defining out.

“He’s one of the best players, rookies, in the game right now,” Orioles left-hander Cole Irvin said of Henderson. “He’s just exciting to watch.”

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At that time, Irvin had allowed a two-run homer to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the first inning but had pushed into the fourth without much traffic. But Carroll and Gabriel Moreno each singled, placing runners on the corners with one out. Austin Hays, shaded toward the left-center field gap, didn’t look likely to track down Ahmed’s popup.

Henderson got there and, when he threw out Carroll, Irvin and catcher Adley Rutschman celebrated a moment that kept the Orioles (83-51, 1.5-game AL East lead) within one run.

“He’s showing everybody why he’s rookie of the year,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s just fun to watch him play right now.”

For good reason, much has been made of Henderson’s offensive production. His 22 homers are the second most on the team, and no Oriole has more triples — a product of his speed. Henderson’s single in the first gave Baltimore an early run, and his double in the eighth led to Ryan O’Hearn’s second RBI of the game, also coming via a double against right-hander Kevin Ginkel.

But Henderson’s defensive ability commands its own attention, whether he’s at third base or shortstop. The latter is the position he’s played all his life. And, although taller players are occasionally redirected to a corner infield position, Henderson’s athleticism could allow his long-term future to be at shortstop.

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“Cal [Ripken] was a tall shortstop, [Corey] Seager is a tall shortstop as well,” Henderson said. “I feel like they kind of paved the way for that, and I just feel like I’m trying to prove that and show that I can play shortstop.”

Henderson is doing that on a nearly nightly basis.

He played third base more frequently in 2022 and still has played nine more games there than at shortstop this year, but since late July Henderson has played short 22 times and third just nine times. It’s becoming his own.

“I’m really comfortable there,” Henderson said, “and I’m just glad I’m getting my feet up under me there at the big league level.”

As Irvin’s outing continued, a two-run homer from Christian Walker in the sixth kept the southpaw from completing the inning. He left with four runs against him in 5 2/3 frames — just shy of his second straight six-inning outing.

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Irvin hasn’t worked deeply into games this year, mainly because of the tight leash on him. Back in a six-man rotation, though, the offseason trade acquisition has performed better. In his last four starts, Irvin has allowed nine runs in 21 2/3 innings.

“Felt like I’ve been good,” Irvin said. “Today, I’m a little disappointed, ultimately, just because I gave up two homers and let the game get away from us a little bit — away from me. But, all in all, feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well.”

It’s not shutdown, but it was enough to keep Baltimore close, and Henderson and O’Hearn gave the Orioles a pathway back into it.

There wasn’t enough production from other parts of the lineup, however, leaving Henderson’s all-around performance as the redeeming quality of a loss to begin a lengthy road trip.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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