Henderson breaks down game-winning RBI hit

September 10th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- took his time. He saw three pitches sail by him, none nearly in his wheelhouse. With the stakes -- bases loaded, down one, in the midst of a pennant race at just 21 years old -- there would be no blame thrown around if he didn’t have his cleanest at-bat of his young career.

Not even the thought of blame was necessary.

Henderson provided his first marquee moment for the Camden Yards faithful on Friday night, his two-run single in the sixth proving the difference in a 3-2 win over the Red Sox. On a night of befuddlement -- the Orioles collected more walks (six) than hits (five) off Red Sox righty Brayan Bello and three relievers -- their top prospect quelled any worries it would carry over into the final result. (For good measure in the eighth, he added a double.)

“Never gets old, especially being up here for I guess just over a week now,” Henderson said with a smile. “It's awesome to have that.”

In the macro, the moment was all the more important. The win was a pick-me-up amid what’s been a trying week in Baltimore, the Orioles on the heels of losing three of four to a Blue Jays team they’re chasing leading into Thursday’s off-day. But with Friday’s victory -- a gutsy effort without closer Félix Bautista (arm fatigue) -- the O’s ensured they ended the night actually better than they started it, gaining a half-game on the Mariners to be an even four games back for the third and final Wild Card spot.

But perhaps Henderson’s heroics on Friday should have been expected. After all, this postseason chase is all he’s known. Called up on Aug. 30, he found his first action right smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt. He responded then with his first career long ball. Reaching base three times on Friday, he has a .306/.359/.472 slash line (.831 OPS) with four extra-base hits and three walks against eight strikeouts though his first 10 career games.

“It's been really good, just being in this playoff push and seeing how the atmosphere is,” Henderson said. “Being able to be here and experience that, I feel like it can only help me going forward. I'm looking forward to continuing it and hoping we make the playoffs.”

Henderson’s game planning started far before he stepped foot into the batter’s box. The three batters before him reached via walk, the second one ultimately ending Boston starter Bello’s night.  drew the third, a six-pitch battle with reliever Kaleb Ort.

Of the four balls Mountcastle saw from Ort, three were sliders not particularly close to the zone. Henderson took notice.

“You go in and you can learn from the people in front of you,” Henderson said. “They put together really good at-bats before, so it gave me confidence going in there. Felt like we had them on their heels right there.”

Henderson stepped to the plate and saw the first three pitches go by him, also not particularly close to the zone. And true to form, two were sliders. Not seeing any need to swing with a 3-0 count, he let the fourth -- a fastball down the middle -- go by him for a called strike.

“After he threw the first strike, I was like, he wasn't really throwing anything else [but the fastball] for a strike,” Henderson recalled. “And [the fastball-slider] was the only thing he threw.”

When a fastball came in for pitch No. 5, Henderson made contact. It trickled just enough through the right side, scoring and  and giving the fans in attendance on Friday night a reason to celebrate.

“I just told myself to get on top of it and not miss it,” Henderson said. “I was able to get the job done.”

“That was a really nice at-bat,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Nice job being patient, getting something he can handle, putting a good swing on it. … Exciting young player.”

Henderson said he learned from Mountcastle’s at-bat before him as to why he found his success on Friday night. But it was the pedigree inside him, the pitch recognition and the acute awareness of the moment -- all boiling into his top prospect status -- that served him a game-winning swing, and Baltimore a moment to savor.

Sometimes, evidently, the rookie can dole out the lessons.