Heston Kjerstad suddenly realized he was on camera. The Orioles outfielder had been looking up, waiting for a replay of his first career grand slam, when he instead saw his face. As the sold-out crowd at Camden Yards roared, he pumped his fist.

And, when they kept roaring, Kjerstad popped his head out of the dugout and doffed his cap, earning the first curtain call of a career that has been stop and start to this point.

“I think I was putting in a piece of bubblegum, looked up at the board, and I was like, ‘Oh, oh, we’re up there,’” Kjerstad said. “And then all the guys started yelling, getting on me and stuff, ‘Hey, go and give a curtain call.’ It was fun.”

A week ago, Kjerstad was playing for Triple-A Norfolk, hoping for an opportunity such as this. Now he’s in the majors, where he’s making the most of his opportunity — a full stadium, a deafening cheer, a yell as he rounded second base as the emotions flooded out of the 25-year-old prospect.

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Kjerstad’s swing was the major breakthrough in Baltimore’s 6-5 victory against the Texas Rangers on Saturday, and the 44,286 fans at Oriole Park duly serenaded him. With the win, Baltimore took sole possession of first place in the American League East.

Manager Brandon Hyde said Kjerstad’s “raw power is on another level.” Left-hander Cade Povich said he has “seen him do it so many times in Norfolk.” The slugging part of the equation is something with which Kjerstad is well acquainted. The curtain call, however?

“He was late with that curtain call,” Hyde joked. “We’ve got to work on that. Early work tomorrow on the timing of curtain calls because that was five seconds too late.”

Kjerstad doesn’t get many of those in the minors, after all.

Since returning from Triple-A on Monday, Kjerstad is playing as though he has no intention of going back to Norfolk. He’s 5-for-12 with three walks and seven RBIs during five games this week — and while Kjerstad was wary to emphasize it’s a small sample, it’s an impressive outlook for a hitter who has received unsteady playing time to this point.

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Kjerstad made his debut last year and featured in 13 games. He was called up earlier this season and played just seven games.

This week, with a slew of right-handed pitchers, the left-handed hitter has received concentrated action. He’s made the most of it, too.

“Hitting the ball right now. I just want to keep it rolling, keep doing that,” Kjerstad said. “That’s the type of player I am, and that’s the type of player I want to be when I come to the park so I can help this team win and help this team for a playoff push down the road.”

Anthony Santander’s earlier homer and Kjerstad’s later blast gave the Orioles their 59th and 60th home runs in June — the most ever in one month in franchise history. And Baltimore is the third team in major league history to power at least 60 long balls in one month.

Kjerstad’s grand slam positioned Povich to earn the first win of his major league career. Povich allowed a home run to Corey Seager in the first and another to Derek Hill in the fifth, but between those blasts was a promising outing.

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“Just two pitches. Would rather them be solo home runs than with guys on base,” Povich said. “Just try to keep us in a position to win.”

Cade Povich allowed two runs on five hits with no walks in five innings to earn his win in the major leagues. (Kylie Cooper)

Povich continued a streak of five starts in which Orioles pitchers haven’t issued a walk. He struck out three batters and allowed five hits, and as right-hander Albert Suárez did in a six-inning gem against the Rangers, Povich limited most hard contact. Povich said he’s learned in his five starts that the Orioles have an “unbelievable defense” behind him. When a ball goes in play, he trusts a teammate will make the routine play — and make the exceptional look routine.

As Povich develops, the seesaw of results is expected. He allowed six runs and four walks in his major league debut early this month, then twirled six scoreless innings in his Camden Yards debut. He walked five in his next start, allowed seven hits in his fourth start and then kept both numbers down against Texas.

The rotation, which has suffered three season-ending elbow injuries, has needed Suárez and Povich to contribute. There could be movement ahead of the trade deadline for additional pitching help, but depth is imperative. And, in five starts, Povich has proven himself serviceable, if not downright solid.

“You always want to pitch in the big leagues, and then you always want to pitch on a championship-caliber team,” Povich said. “I believe we have a team that has a chance to go a long ways this season.”

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The Rangers cut into their deficit through first baseman Nathaniel Lowe’s two-run homer against right-hander Bryan Baker, and again when outfielder Adolis García went deep off right-hander Jacob Webb. Right-hander Craig Kimbrel held on to his second straight one-run lead for another save.

But to get there, Santander’s second-inning homer — his 13th in June — and his RBI ground-rule double paired with Kjerstad’s bases-loaded heroics. All that was left for Kjerstad was a fist pump for the camera and a hat tip to the crowd, finding himself the center of attention on baseball’s biggest stage less than a week since he returned here.

“Close game, sold-out stadium, bases loaded,” Kjerstad said, “those are the moments you want to be a part of.”

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson slides into second base in the third game of a series against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards on June 29, 2024.
Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson slides into second base Saturday night at Oriole Park. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)