Coming off the best week of his big league career, rookie Gunnar Henderson came up with the perfect encore.
Henderson kept up his torrid hitting spree with his first career grand slam, one of four home runs launched by the Baltimore Orioles in an 11-6 triumph over the visiting Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
It was the fifth consecutive win for the surprising Orioles, who climbed 18 games over .500 (42-24) for the first time since 2016, when they last reached the playoffs. Tampa Bay (48-21), which leads second-place Baltimore in the AL East, is the only team in the majors with a better record.
Henderson hit .526 last week with three homers and six RBIs in five games. After a day off Monday, the 21-year-old went 3-for-5, including a bases-loaded drive off Chris Bassitt that capped a six-run third inning.
“That was my first grand slam ever, throughout my whole baseball career, so that was pretty cool,” Henderson said.
He couldn’t deny that he was thinking about accomplishing the feat when he stepped to the plate.
“Kind of passively a little bit, but at the same time I was trying to get the job done and push across a few runs,” Henderson said. “I was able to get it up in the air and push across a little more.”
Henderson has homered in three consecutive games, has 11 hits in his last four starts and is batting .246 after entering June at .201.
“I just feel like I’m very aware of what I want to do when I get in the box,” he said. “I’m just going up there and executing my plan.”
The Orioles banged out a season-high 17 hits, including two-run homers by Adam Frazier and Ryan O’Hearn, along with a solo shot by Aaron Hicks. Three of those drives came off Bassitt (7-5), who permitted eight runs and 11 hits in three innings.
“It was an uncharacteristic outing from Chris,” manager John Schneider said. “He had some pitches in the middle of the plate, couldn’t get the ball inside to lefties. They took advantage.”
Frazier’s second-inning home run put Baltimore up 2-1. O’Hearn connected in the third before Henderson drove a 1-0 pitch over the centre-field wall and into the Baltimore bullpen. The shot travelled an estimated 387 feet, impressive except when compared to the 462-foot blast he launched versus Kansas City on Sunday.
“I felt that one [the slam] kind of put the game away a little bit,” Henderson said. “It was a really good feeling.”
Baltimore’s Dean Kremer (7-3) gave up two runs and eight hits over six innings.
Cavan Biggio homered for the Blue Jays, who fell to 0-4 versus Baltimore this season. Down 11-2, Toronto charged back to make it respectable, which served as no consolation to Schneider.
“You just want those at-bats a little earlier in the game,” the manager said. “Tonight wasn’t our night.”