SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Yastrzemski took two steps back toward the right-field fence before he realized the pursuit was pointless. The ball sailed toward McCovey Cove, and it missed the water outside Oracle Park only because it deflected off a railing and fell back among the fans.
Gunnar Henderson had no doubt off the bat the destination of that blast. He didn’t take too long admiring the trajectory, or the 110.7 mph exit velocity, before tossing his bat aside and rounding the bases with his head down. But the 21-year-old has hit only one ball in his short major league career as hard as the one he demolished in the seventh inning Friday night in Baltimore’s 3-2 victory against the San Francisco Giants.
“Best swing of the year, for me, from him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “An enormous hit for us.”
In some ways, Henderson has waited for a rocket such as that one.
He burst onto the scene late last year, although his production hasn’t quite matched the other-worldly hype that follows the former top prospect. In New York late last month, though, Henderson hit his fifth homer of the season. And in the days immediately following the infielder said he wasn’t in a groove yet but felt close to breaking out.
“Whenever I do get in that groove, I know the power numbers are going to take off and everything will start to come around,” Henderson said in New York. “Starting to head in the right direction.”
Henderson has backed up that statement with a mixed bag of results in the time since. He went hitless in four of his five games before Friday, although he recorded three RBIs and a double in that span. Before then, his average had crept to a season-high .210 upon the series finale against the Yankees.
The signs are there that Henderson — who has remained impressively patient despite a lower-than-expected batting average — is nearing that groove. The loudest sign, of course, was his seventh-inning homer off right-hander Logan Webb, when he caught a changeup and powered it 410 feet.
Henderson agreed it was probably the biggest hit of his major league career, but he laughed that the days all blur together and he can’t really remember them all.
“I’m starting to feel really good in the box,” Henderson said, “and that was definitely one of my best [swings] I’ve had. Starting to feel really good, so I felt like that’s a big step in the right direction.”
It prodded Baltimore (36-21) ahead for good against the Giants, who threatened in the eighth inning with right-hander Yennier Cano on the mound. San Francisco couldn’t crack the deficit, though, because of a superb nab from second baseman Adam Frazier on a grounder hit 106.3 mph. Frazier began the inning-ending double play, and the Orioles escaped despite two runners reaching against Cano.
On the whole, it was a much-improved bullpen showing after the Cleveland Guardians scored 12 runs against the Orioles on Wednesday. Left-hander Danny Coulombe struck out the side in the seventh, Cano got out of danger in the eighth, and closer Félix Bautista danced around a two-out double with three strikeouts to earn a save.
“Those are some big arms. Some big, accurate arms with some big stuff,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “So, definitely challenging as you get into the later innings and they’ve proven time and time again they can handle those spots.”
The Orioles had a platform to build on even though the first pitch of right-hander Dean Kremer’s night was sent into McCovey Cove by LaMonte Wade Jr., a Maryland native whose homer became the 100th splash hit at Oracle Park. Kremer settled in, allowing two runs in six innings.
Kremer, a Stockton, California, native pitching at Oracle Park for the first time, has pitched at least five innings with three runs or fewer against him in each of his last six outings. He did it with two of his brothers in the crowd, along with friends.
“It’s different,” Kremer said. “Being that I’m always on the East Coast, and I don’t get too many opportunities to come to the West Coast and see people that I used to, it’s really nice.”
Kremer has found a consistency that the Orioles rotation has largely been without this year, and it gave Baltimore an opportunity to win despite a strong effort from Webb on the mound.
The Orioles first broke through in the second inning with RBI singles from Ryan O’Hearn and Jorge Mateo. They had to wait until the seventh for Henderson’s long ball. But that was enough, and it got them off on the right foot to begin a two-city road trip.
“We were able to finally catch our breath, have an off day [Thursday] and have everybody catch up on sleep,” Henderson said. “Felt like we all played really well today. Dean went out and threw it, and then the bullpen was rocks as always.”