Orioles All Star John Means made his season debut tonight after missing his first start with “arm fatigue.” Means struggled from the get go, and spotted New York a five-run lead in the top of the first inning.
Despite the deficit, the Orioles used three two-run home runs and a strong effort from their bullpen to storm back and claim a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning. Baltimore was three outs from completing the comeback and breaking its 17-game losing streak against New York. Then Cole Sulser took the mound looking for the save.
Sulser walked the lead off batter before Mike Tauchman flew out. After DJ Lemahieu singled to put two on, Aaron Judge stepped up to the plate.
Judge took two pitches outside of the strike zone before swinging and missing after the third. Sulser fired the fourth pitch right down the middle, but the pitch was called low. Sulser was forced to throw a 3-1 fastball, and Judge did not miss. He drove the ball 413 feet to left, and reclaimed the lead for good.
The Orioles do not have a set closer this season. Sulser looked strong against Boston, and earned another shot tonight. Mychal Givens survived a wild eighth inning, and Richard Bleier looked extremely sharp in relief as well. All will likely get a shot at getting the final out this season. Tonight just wasn’t Sulser’s night.
In the days leading up to Opening Day last year, Means had to wonder if he would even make the team. Everyone knows the story after that. He emerged from the bullpen and became the team’s only All Star. Flash forward to this season, and he was scheduled to take the ball on Opening Day. Unfortunately, Means was unable to make that start.
Means returned from the injured list to start in a game that was not on the schedule a week ago. Not only that, but he has to face a Yankee team that has won 17 straight against the Orioles.
It’s a tough ask.
Means brought the heat right away. His fastball was touching 96 mph, a few ticks above last year’s average, but the control was not there. He plunked Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres in back-to-back at bats before Giancarlo Stanton drove in the first run of the game with a single.
Means found his way to a pitcher’s count on Aaron Hicks, but Hicks worked his way to a full count before eventually drawing a walk to load the bases. A ground ball still would have ended the inning, but Luke Voit did not put the ball on the ground.
Voit blasted a fly ball to left center field that traveled 398 feet. A grand slam for Voit, and a not-so-grand start to the season for Means. With the bases empty, Means produced a ground out from Gary Sánchez and struck out Gio Urshela to end the inning.
Means bounced back with a three-up, three-down second inning. The lefty actually hit Judge again with a breaking ball, but Judge failed to check his swing. The pitch was ruled a strike, and Judge eventually went down swinging for the third out.
Means retired Torres to start the third, but Brandon Hyde emerged from the clubhouse to pull him from the game. Means was clearly on a pitch limit, and the long first inning did not help his cause. He threw 51 pitches, with 30 going for strikes.
Voit’s grand slam would have sucked the air out of Camden Yards if there were fans present, but the Orioles dugout was unphased. Austin Hays led off the bottom of the first with a single, and Hanser Alberto followed with a two-run blast that trimmed the lead to three.
After Means kept New York off the board, the Birds struck again in the second. Pat Valaika worked a one-out walk, and Rio Ruiz followed with his third hit of the season. All three of those hits were home runs.
Ruiz turned a 2-1 changeup into a no-doubter that traveled 397 feet. All of a sudden, the Orioles only trailed by one.
Then the bats went silent.
Travis Lakins replaced Means and delivered 2.2 scoreless innings. Lakins allowed at least one base runner in each of his three innings, but never broke. He used a double play to erase a baserunner in the third, struck out Lemahieu with two on to end the fourth, and struck out Hicks after Stanton doubled in the fifth.
Not pretty, but effective.
Happ settled down after the two home runs and held the O’s in check through innings three and four. Yankees manager Aaron Boone may have had the weather on his mind when he summoned Adam Ottavino to pitch the fifth inning. Ottavino kept Baltimore off the board as the one-run game reached the “official game” milestone.
Miguel Castro replaced Lakins as rain picked up in the sixth. After a leadoff single by Voit, Castro struck out Sánchez and produced a double play from Urshela. The quick end to the inning nearly allowed Baltimore to sneak in another at bat, but they called for the tarp.
After a 94 minute delay, the game resumed. The Orioles completed the comeback with the blast by Severino, but the Judge shot did them in. Severino nearly chased the storm clouds away, but the night ended darker than ever.
It’s early in the season, but this one stings. The comeback bid served as a tremendous opportunity to gather some momentum and rattle off a few more victories. Instead, the Orioles fell below .500 at 2-3. Will they climb above that mark again this year? There’s no way of knowing.
We’ll always have
Paris that 6-5 lead in the eighth.
The Orioles have now lost 18 consecutive games to the Yankees. They’ll take on Blake Snell and the Rays tomorrow at 7:35.