There are times when you can be absolutely certain that the Orioles are going to lose a ballgame. Today, perhaps that moment of realization hit you when the O’s were shut out for eight innings by a pitcher with a career 4.56 ERA. Or it may have slapped you in the face when the Orioles somehow got a runner thrown out trying to score from third base — on a single. But it became official when Nate Lowe smacked a walkoff hit in the bottom of the 10th, averting the Orioles’ attempt for a three-game sweep in Texas with a 1-0 decision.
I’m going to take you behind the recapping curtain here for a moment and make a confession: I’ve never really figured out how to write about pitchers’ duels. I’m not saying pitchers’ duels are boring; they can certainly have their charms as a baseball event. But when you’re recapping a game, I feel like there’s only so many ways you can say, “Then the pitcher got that guy out. Then he got that other guy out. And then the other pitcher got guys out, too. What a barnburner!”
But today, John Means got a lot of guys out. And Kyle Gibson got a lot of guys out, too. And it just sort of...continued that way for the majority of the game. What a barnburner!
Means was in total control from the get-go. It could be argued that he would’ve carried a perfect game into the fifth inning if he had a better defense behind him. Only two Rangers batters reached base in those first four frames; Nick Solak blooped a first-inning single in front of DJ Stewart, who got a bad jump on the ball. and Solak got aboard again in the fourth when Maikel Franco booted his sharp grounder to third.
Beyond that, Means was untouchable. He struck out the side in the first inning to leave Solak stranded, then racked up two more Ks in the second and another in the third. Everything in his arsenal was working; in the first two innings alone, Means induced seven swings-and-misses, throwing 21 of his 26 pitches for strikes.
Meanwhile, Gibson was similarly brilliant against the O’s lineup, which didn’t exactly work him hard. Five of the first seven Birds batters were retired on the second pitch of the at-bat, including a blink-and-you-missed-it, six-pitch second inning. At one point, after a Ramon Urias one-out single in the third, Gibson retired 12 consecutive batters until a Maikel Franco base hit in the seventh.
Gibson got most of his outs by inducing weak contact and trusting his fielders, but he did still end up with six strikeouts, three of which were Chance Sisco. (Sisco has now whiffed in 10 of his 20 at-bats this year, has zero extra-base hits, and is the only active O’s hitter who hasn’t drawn a walk. I’m not saying it’s time to call up Adley Rutschman, but I’m not not saying that.)
The first, best scoring chance belonged to the Rangers in the fifth. Jose Trevino swung at a pitch around eye level and somehow ripped it into the left-field corner for a double. Trevino moved to third on a grounder, and Eli White worked a patient, nine-pitch walk. But Means picked up a huge strikeout of Leody Taveras, then retired Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a liner to center. Threat: quashed.
An inning later, Solak led off with an infield single, but Sisco threw him out trying to steal second. (I retract my previous comment. Keep Adley Rutschman down.) That was a huge out, as Means followed with a four-pitch walk to Nate Lowe, but recovered to set down the next two batters on groundouts. He then cruised through a perfect seventh inning, punctuating his outing with a pair of strikeouts. With his pitch count at 96, Means was finished for the afternoon.
What an outing by the O’s ace lefty. He twirled seven shutout innings, allowed only three hits, and struck out nine. The Orioles had one last chance to get him a win, putting a man in scoring position for Cedric Mullins in the top of the eighth, but a harmless groundout to second stifled the rally. Gibson, too, was done after that, ending with eight scoreless innings and just four hits allowed. Means and Gibson were almost equally effective at keeping the ball in the zone: Means threw 66 strikes and 30 balls; Gibson, 66 strikes and 31 balls. Alas, neither went home with a decision.
If you thought the runs would start piling up fast and furious once the starters were out of the game, you thought wrong. Adam Plutko and Paul Fry combined on a scoreless eighth, mostly thanks to Fry, who got two big outs to strand two runners inherited from Plutko. Rangers closer Ian Kennedy then struck out all three batters in the Orioles’ ninth, and Fry and Cesar Valdez set down the Rangers 1-2-3 in the bottom half. On to extras!
Surely, you may have thought, after nine innings of offensive futility, the Orioles could finally get on the board when gifted a free baserunner at second base, as they were in the 10th. And yet...no. They got that runner thrown out in one of the most ludicrous ways possible. Maikel Franco, the free runner, advanced to third on Ryan Mountcastle’s long fly ball, putting him 90 feet away with one out.
Pinch-hitter Trey Mancini delivered exactly what was needed: a sharp single to right field. Hey, the O’s have a lead...right? Except, wait, what’s happening? Right fielder Adolis Garcia fielded the ball on one hop, came up firing to the plate...and threw out Franco by a country mile.
What?? How do you not score from third base on a single? Well, you could argue that Franco was in a bit of no-man’s land there — it was unclear whether Garcia was going to make the catch, nor whether the ball was hit deep enough for Franco to tag up. He ultimately decided to head back to the bag in case it was caught, which was clearly the wrong decision. Ugly. The O’s, of course, did not end up scoring in the inning.
They didn’t get another chance, as the Rangers walked off in the bottom half. Travis Lakins Sr. made a nice play on a bunt to throw out the free runner at third, but then promptly put a man back in scoring position on a wild pitch and a walk, followed by another wild pitch and another walk to load the bases. With two down, Lowe stroked a 1-1 pitch the opposite way for a game-winning single to left, and that was that. Welp. That was disappointing. On to Miami.