What Baltimore lost Tuesday night rippled across the city shortly before first pitch at Camden Yards. An icon. A hero for many, a namesake for others.

Brooks Robinson died at 86, and the assembled Orioles fans gathered in a moment of silence before the Orioles’ 1-0 win against the Washington Nationals. They remembered the best third baseman in baseball, the one who earned 16 Gold Glove awards. They remembered how a kid from Arkansas made Baltimore home, and they remembered how he rode around the ballpark last year in a convertible for recognition on Brooks Robinson Day.

Robinson stands alone in that category. In Baltimore, few people rise to mononym-status, but Brooks was one, and he’s joined by Cal.

“You cannot replace a guy like Brooks Robinson,” said Rick Dempsey, a former teammate and friend of Robinson. “There’s just no way you can do that.”

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On the diamond, however, the Orioles had no choice but to replace Robinson at third base, and over the years they’ve inserted transcendent stars on the left side of Baltimore’s infield. Cal Ripken Jr. found his home at shortstop and became a hero to a whole new generation of Little League ballplayers.

And in the years to come, in a distant future shrouded by the unknowns of modern-day baseball contracts and the ever-present threat of injury, Gunnar Henderson could be another. Could is the operative word — to place a 21-year-old anywhere near the same echelon as Robinson would be tomfoolery.

But Henderson — or Gunnar, as he’s succinctly referred to around this city — could follow a trajectory that leads from his likely American League Rookie of the Year award this season to become another member of Baltimore’s left-side infield royalty. It was only fitting, then, that Gunnar honored Brooks with a leadoff home run, bringing a mourning crowd to its feet to celebrate a level of talent not frequently seen.

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“A lot of guys played tonight with a heavy heart,” manager Brandon Hyde said, tears in his eyes. “He’s an icon in this game, an icon in this city. There’s not many of those.”

There was Robinson and Ripken, Manny Machado and now Henderson. The first two spent their whole careers in Baltimore and became two of the six players to have their numbers retired. Machado, meanwhile, was traded away at the beginning of this rebuild before he could leave a similar presence.

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And Henderson is only in his rookie season. He debuted as a 20-year-old, two years older than Robinson did in 1955, yet Henderson’s impact has already buoyed a playoff-bound team that took a step closer Tuesday to its first American League East championship since 2014. With the victory, Baltimore’s magic number to clinch the division dropped to two games; they would clinch with a win Wednesday night and a Tampa Bay loss in Boston.

Before the game Tuesday, vice president of communication Jennifer Grondahl gathered the players to inform them Robinson had passed. They knew first pitch was approaching, but they all took a moment to remember the man who made the Orioles organization what it is now.

“The softness in his eyes, really,” outfielder Ryan McKenna said when asked what he’ll remember most about Robinson. “When I shook his hand, he’d look at you and say, ‘Hey, I’ve really loved watching you this year. It’s been so much fun seeing the energy you guys have.’”

Robinson was always that involved, even at the turning point for the organization in 2018. In the interview room in the bowels of Camden Yards, Hyde recalled how during his introductory press conference five years ago, Robinson sat in the first row.

“I‘m some guy from Chicago that just gets hired and for him to take the time out to show support, he showed support the entire time I’ve been here,” Hyde said. “I have a framed picture of him in my office [on which] he wrote a nice thing and signature, and I know that he watched us a lot and knew last year when he came, he knew all of our players. He watched every night.”

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The Orioles didn’t need more than Henderson’s solo homer in the first inning because of right-hander Kyle Bradish’s standout outing. He completed a season-high eight scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out four. In the process, Bradish lowered his season ERA to 2.86, and while he may not be a frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award, he’s certainty deserving of consideration.

Bradish has done this for much of the year, emerging as Baltimore’s likely starter in the first game of the postseason. Over his last two starts, Bradish has thrown 14 scoreless frames.

That, plus Henderson, helped a crowd rise to their feet when their heavy hearts might have kept them down.

Last year, after Robinson rode around the warning track in the convertible, a freshly promoted Henderson grabbed his glove and jogged to the plate. He caught the ceremonial first pitch from Robinson, then posed for a photo with the legend.

“That was actually really special to me,” Henderson said. “I’ll cherish that memory forever.”

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com