Kjerstad crushes 'surreal' 418-ft homer for first big league hit

Orioles' No. 3 prospect breaks up no-hitter with towering solo shot

September 16th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Imagine this: Your first MLB hit is a home run to break up a no-hitter during a game in which first place in the division hangs in the balance. There’s a sellout crowd of 43,359 in the stands, roaring as you trot around the bases.

doesn’t have to imagine, because he did exactly that on Friday night.

The Orioles’ No. 3 prospect (and MLB Pipeline’s No. 24 overall prospect) broke up the no-no pursuit of Rays right-hander Zach Eflin in an American League East battle at Camden Yards, leading off the sixth inning with a Statcast-projected 418-foot homer to right-center field. However, it accounted for Baltimore’s lone run in a 7-1 loss that allowed Tampa Bay to grab a share of first place in the AL East.

On a tough night for the O’s, Kjerstad experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

“That was surreal, honestly,” Kjerstad said. “I just wanted to get the first hit out of the way, and to have it be a homer and see it go out of the yard and everything, it’s really amazing. Truly something you dream of, and really awesome to be able to experience that.”

The solo shot came in the third career big league at-bat for Kjerstad, who was making his first start. The 24-year-old was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday, when he struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of the series opener vs. the Rays. He started at designated hitter and batted seventh on Friday.

Eflin hadn’t allowed a hit through five innings, having faced the minimum 15 Baltimore batters to that point. Kjerstad’s blast cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 7-1, and it was the only O’s hit off Eflin. Their only other knock on the night was a single by Cedric Mullins in the eighth.

“He was pitching a great game the whole time,” said Kjerstad, who connected on a 1-1 cutter from Eflin that was located well inside. “For me, it was just getting him in the zone and getting a good pitch I could hit hard. I chased a couple pitches in my earlier AB, so I wanted to tighten up the zone and hit a good pitch hard.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kjerstad was the first player whose first MLB hit broke up a no-hit bid in the sixth inning or later since Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint, who hit a sixth-inning single off the D-backs’ Robbie Ray on Sept. 9, 2018.

The most recent player to accomplish that feat with the first hit also being a home run? Former Orioles catcher Taylor Teagarden. He did so for the Rangers on July 20, 2008, when he went deep in the sixth against the Twins’ Scott Baker.

Kjerstad got his home run ball back after the game, as he met with the family that retrieved it outside of Baltimore’s clubhouse. In exchange, he gave a pair of young fans autographed bats.

There could be plenty more homers to come from Kjerstad, who crushed 21 across 122 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season. His first in the big leagues was much more meaningful, though.

“It’s something he’ll never forget,” manager Brandon Hyde said 

Prior to Kjerstad, the most recent Orioles player to hit a home run for his first MLB hit was Gunnar Henderson, who went deep at Cleveland in his debut on Aug. 31, 2022. And Henderson made sure to let Kjerstad know whose homer was more impressive.

“He did it his second AB and not the third one,” Kjerstad said with a smile, “so he had me beat on that.”