It was an old fashioned pitchers duel on Thursday night in a mostly empty Camden Yards. At least it looked that way, based off the television images.
On the field, the two left-handed starters traded zeros in the the box score all the way up until the sixth inning, when the Orioles broke through for the first lead of the game. But the lead wouldn’t last long.
As far as Texas’ pitching, a big part of starter Kolby Allard’s success was tied to his ground ball tendencies. He induced eight ground outs and allowed only two fly outs on the night. John Means had the opposite effect, allowing eight fly outs and five ground outs. Yet it worked, for the most part.
The Birds got the good version of Means in this one; the version we have been spoiled with for most of the year. But the offense was unable to make good on his strong start with anything more than one measly run.
Means retired the side in order in the first inning on 12 pitches, getting ahead with strike one on all three batters. That is, if you count the fly out off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo on the very first pitch of the game.
The first hit of the night for the Rangers came with two outs in the top of the third. It was an infield hit for catcher Jose Trevino, who laced a ground ball past the mound and over second base. Richie Martin ranged far to his left to glove it but had no chance to throw out Trevino at first. The Rangers would muster only three more hits off of Means all night.
Texas is known to be a team of free-swingers, as evidenced by their high strikeout numbers this year. At the start of play Thursday, their hitters led the majors in strikeouts with 1,395. On Thursday night, Means registered four strikeouts against them while not issuing any walks.
In spite of the low run total, it wasn’t like the Orioles lacked opportunities to score runs against Texas. Baltimore put two on to lead off the first and fourth innings, but failed to do any damage in either instance. As a team, they went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving nine men on base.
Mancini led off the home half of the sixth with double on a sharp liner to left. Then Anthony Santander showed a mature approach and moved the runner over to third on a ground ball to the right side. The next man up — Renato Nunez in this case — did not even need a hit in order to drive a run home.
And that’s exactly what happened. Nunez hit a fly ball to medium-shallow center field, and the Orioles decided to test Delino Deshields Jr.’s arm strength by sending Trey from third. The throw was off line, pulling the catcher up the first base line and off of home plate. Finally, a run scored, and it gave the O’s a one-run lead.
When the Orioles’ left-hander returned to the mound he was showing good zip on his fastball, hitting 93 mph in the sixth inning. Unfortunately, he started to fade in the seventh.
Nunez also showed his inexperience at first on a ground ball leading off the seventh inning. He got caught leaning to his left as Means’ pitch was delivered, only to have the ball scoot past him on his right for a leadoff single. Then designated hitter Nick Solak made the O’s pay, launching a two-run home run to right field that gave Texas a 2-1 lead.
A fly out and a double later, Brandon Hyde emerged from the dugout to pull Means from the game. The lefty went 6.2 innings, allowing four hits, two runs, no walks, four strikeouts and one home run. He lowered his ERA to 3.50 on the year.
The Rangers removed their starter, Kolby Allard, in the seventh inning as well. Emmanuel Clase was brought in to escape a tight spot after Mark Trumbo doubled and Stevie Wilkerson walked. And Clase did just that, getting a force out and a fly out to end the inning without letting any inherited runners score.
Allard’s final pitching line looked like this: 6.1 innings, eight hits, one run, two walks and two strikeouts.
In the top of the ninth, the Rangers added an insurance run courtesy of Logan Forsythe. There were runners on first and second with one out when Forsythe singled to left, driving home Solak and allowing Rougned Odor to reach third after DJ Stewart’s throwing error to home. The Rangers would then load the bases, but the O’s were able to get out of the inning without any more damage occurring.
After a long but disappointing home half of the ninth in which the Orioles got a leadoff double and a walk but failed to push across any runs, time ran out. In a close game like this — which the Orioles could have won — it’s easy to pick out all the little things that contributed to the loss. But on the plus side, it’s also easy to see how good John Means is.