October 17th, 2022
PEORIA, Ariz. – Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad is so hot right now, his guess of an answer for a very obscure baseball trivia question was on the nose.
He and Braves infielder Cal Conley both hit inside-the-park home runs in the Scottsdale Scorpions’ 6-4 win over the Peoria Javelinas on Monday afternoon. It might not surprise anyone to know that having two inside-the-park home runs by one team is not particularly common at the big league level. The duo was asked how many times they think it’s happened in the last 45 years.
“Under five,” Conley said.
Kjerstad can do no wrong so far in this Fall League, and he was absolutely correct. The last time it happened was on Oct. 4, 1986, and the last time before that was 1977. In 1986, the Twins’ Greg Gagne pulled it off on his own, with two inside-the-park homers against the Chicago White Sox.
“It was the same dude?” Kjerstad said incredulously.
In Conley’s defense, he wasn’t wrong. And he also might be able to predict the future. On Thursday, Conley had tripled as part of a two-hit game and talked about how “triples and inside-the-park home runs are the two best hits.”
And he went out and got one on Monday.
“Mine was a little luck, a little flare over first that bounced the right way for me,” Conley said about his fourth-inning trip around the bases. “But you take what you can get.”
Kjerstad’s had a little more thump to it. His second-inning shot to right missed clearing the fence by inches, but when it took a high-arcing bounce off the top of the fence and over Nationals outfielder Yasel Antuna’s head, the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect was on his proverbial horse.
“I don’t even remember the last time I had an inside-the-park home run,” Kjerstad said. “Maybe a double off the wall, mix in a couple of triples every now and then, but shoot, I never even think about rounding third after I get there. It’s something out of the blue, doesn’t happen much, but it counts the same.”
Indeed it does, and it goes down as Kjerstad’s fourth home run of the fall and was part of a 4-for-5 day with two RBIs that brought Kjerstad’s average up to .404 and his league-leading total base count up to 35 in 10 games. For Conley, the Braves’ No. 12 prospect, it counts as his first home run regardless of how hard (or not) he hit it.
“Out of the box I was flying and as soon as I hit second, I looked at [the third base coach] and he was already sending me, so I was fired up for that,” said Conley, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and is hitting .333 for the fall.
There’s no Statcast for games at Peoria Stadium, but the pair was pretty certain that Conley had the better sprint speed while Kjerstad easily had the more impressive exit velocity.
“He got around the bases quicker than I did, for sure,” Kjerstad said with a laugh.
There was laughter all-around with the duo that hit 1-2 in the Scorpions lineup. And no wonder, the pair combined to go 7-for-10 with three runs scored and all six RBIs. That helped offset solo home runs from Padres infielder Jackson Merrill and Mariners outfielder Alberto Rodriguez, both their first long balls of the season.
“We have a lot of good hitters in this lineup,” Conley said. “Obviously it’s nice hitting around this guy. He gets on a lot, we score a lot of runs for this guy. Our team is kind of coming together and it’s a fun group of guys and a good coaching staff we’re playing for, so it makes it fun every day.”
“It’s a great group of hitters, one through nine,” Kjerstad echoed. “A lot of guys get the job done a little bit different, with different approaches, so it’s fun to see how everybody takes care of their business. Everyone can hit. There’s always guys on base for you to drive in, or guys to drive you in once you get on base.”
After two inside-the-park home runs, what could this pair do for an encore?
“A bunt hit?” Conley quipped.
“I bet we probably won’t do that again while we’re out here,” Kjerstad laughed.