The Orioles haven’t been scoring of late. That changed Sunday.
John Means has been excellent this season. That did not.
Means added to what’s been a terrific April with 6.1 strong innings, Austin Hays cranked two home runs, and the Orioles bucked a couple of trends by beating the Oakland Athletics 8-1.
Trend No. 1: The Orioles became the first team in 14 games to beat the Athletics, who hadn’t lost since falling to 1-7 on April 8. Trend No. 2: Baltimore had been struggling at home, with only a 1-8 mark at Camden Yards entering the afternoon.
Still, with Means taking the mound, you knew there was a chance this could be the one that went the Orioles’ way. And sure enough, the lefty showed the same form that allowed him to compile a 1.52 ERA before today, and go seven shutout innings in his last outing. He again made it look easy, spotting fastballs on both sides of the plate that set up his nasty changeup.
At times, it was clinical. Means rarely blew hitters away, but constantly stayed away from the barrels of the Oakland bats. He struck out six but consistently kept the Athletics off-balance, forcing a littany of weak pop-ups and harmless grounders that prevented or cut short any rallies. He allowed only two hits while walking three, and surrendered only a Ramon Laureano home run as far as runs on the board.
As we learned in his last start, however, a pitcher is only so effective without his lineup. On Sunday, Hays made sure Means had all the support he’d need.
In the second, Hays got ahold of a Jesus Luzardo pitch with two outs, driving it into the left-center field bullpen for a home run and a 1-0 lead. If the 396-foot shot felt unusual to see, it’s because it has been; it was Baltimore’s first home run in 35 innings, going back to a Freddy Galvis shot in the 7-5 win over Miami on April 20.
Hays wasn’t done. The aforementioned Luzardo shot, another bullpen-finder, tied the game in the fourth, but in the bottom half Hays came to the plate after Pedro Severino walked and Ryan Mountcastle reached on a fielder’s choice on a slow roller to second.
This time, Hays again got ahold of one and sent it over the wall in right-center field, just to the left of the tall scoreboard. MASN had it at 390 feet, and the Orioles were up 3-1.
The Orioles eventually broke it open with a five-run eighth sparked by Oakland wildness, one that featured a home run by Maikel Franco that made it 4-1, a hard-fought bases-loaded walk by Ryan McKenna after 10 pitches that made it 5-1, and finally a two-run single by Trey Mancini that bumped the lead to 8-1 and put consecutive win No. 14 on life support.
Before that, though, there were big moments as the Orioles tried to make sure Means’s strong start stood up. In the seventh, Means exited after a one-out walk to Matt Chapman, giving way to Adam Plutko. The righty got pinch-hitter Seth Brown on strikes, and then got Elvis Andrus to pop up to the left of the mound. The routine play had been a tricky challenge all day, but Franco - who dropped a similar pop-up in foul territory in the second - ran in and caught it just in time for the third out.
In the top of the eighth, right before Baltimore’s last rally took the drama out of the afternoon, Aramis Garcia greeted Paul Fry with a sharp grounder to third, but Franco crouched down and made a smooth backhanded stop. Had that gotten through, the A’s would have had the tying run at the plate with no outs; instead, it was merely the first out, and Fry took care of the rest by fanning the next two batters.
Even after the insurance runs came in the eighth, a notable moment occurred when Zac Lowther made his major league debut in the ninth. Lowther gave up a hit but struck out one and made it through the inning unscathed, preserving the 8-1 final. Hopefully, it’s the start of something big for the team’s No. 11 prospect.
And hopefully, Sunday provided a boost of confidence for the Orioles. The A’s had been rolling, and one must think a 1-8 start at home forces a team to start pressing. With a home series against the Yankees up next, it was good to get the monkey off the back.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sunday, April 25?
This poll is closed
Austin Hays (2-for-3, 2 HR. 3 R, 3 RBI)
John Means (6.1 IP, 2 H, 6 Ks, 1 ER)
Cedric Mullins (3-for-5)
Maikel Franco (1-for-4, HR)