Fresh off a blown save on Thursday, César Valdez took the mound a day later with the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead. Valdez, again, did not appear to have his best stuff. The 36-year-old struggled with his command and allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to reach base before recording the first out of the inning.
With the stakes raised, Valdez bounced back. Rio Ruiz caught a sharp line drive by Mitch Moreland, and both Seth Brown and Elvis Andrus flew out to center field to end the game. John Means picked up the win, Valdez notched the save and the Orioles beat the Athletics 3-2 in the first of a three game series.
Means entered the game as one of the best pitchers in baseball and continued to pitch like one. The lefty went seven innings, allowed only three hits and struck out nine. His only two mistakes came with elevated fastballs early in the count.
Means missed high and Sean Murphy took advantage with a solo home run in the second inning. The ball traveled 408 feet over the wall in right center field to give Oakland an early 1-0 lead. Means went back to cruise control until missing upstairs again with a fastball to Moreland. Moreland lined the ball out of the park to trim Baltimore’s, but Means quickly ended the inning with a ground ball from Stephen Piscotty.
Simply put, Means was dealing tonight. He had the fastball scooting, the changeup fooling and the curveball serving as an excellent change of pace. Oakland took advantage of a couple mistakes, but they also looked silly several times. Matt Chapman spiked his bat hard into the dirt after whiffing on a 3-2 changeup. The strikeout proved to be Means’ final K of the evening. He moved to 3-0 on the season.
The Birds gained their lead with back-to-back jacks from the top of the order. Cedric Mullins attempted to bunt for a base hit but pushed the first pitch of the third inning out of play. He pulled the bat back and took the next pitch 355 feet down the right field line. Austin Hays followed and pulled a ball 383 feet down the left field line. Neither blast broke the sound barrier, but they did give the O’s a one run lead. Mullins plated Chance Sisco with an RBI groundout to extend the lead in the fifth inning.
The Orioles called on Paul Fry to replace Means in the eighth inning. Fry, who struggled this spring, has quietly served as one of Baltimore’s most reliable relievers.
The first out came easy. Former Ranger Elvis Andrus attempted to bunt for a base hit, but pushed the ball back to Fry for the first out. Fry ran the count full before Tony Kemp worked a one out walk. Kemp quickly stole second, and eventually advanced to third on a pass ball by Sisco. Suddenly, without a hit, the A’s had the tying run 90 feet away.
Fry responded with a big time strikeout of Mark Canha for the second out, but Hyde did not allow him to work out of the inning. Instead, Baltimore called on Travis Lakins Sr. to pickup the third out. Lakins walked Ramon Laureano to put the go-ahead run on base, but eventually forced Jed Lowrie into an inning-ending fly out to center field.
Valdez battled back in the ninth, but nearly received some extra help. With two on and nobody out, Moreland lined out to Ruiz. Ruiz fired to second base and doubled off Murphy before he made it back to the bag. Replay showed that Murphy beat the throw back and the call was reversed. Valdez worked the count full to Brown before retiring the pinch hitter.
The Orioles failed to convert several opportunities to pick up insurance runs. Baltimore failed to score after DJ Stewart walked and Ryan Mountcastle scored to begin the sixth. Ruiz awkwardly attempted to call for time after the pitcher had began his wind up but did not receive it. Ruiz had to protect with two strikes and bounced into a double play after returning his hand to the bat. Pat Valaika flew out to end the inning.
Mountcastle led off the eighth with a single to left, but was thrown out attempting to go first-to-third on a single by Valaika. Instead of two men on and one out, the Birds were left with two out and a man on first. Sisco struckout to end the inning.
The Orioles appeared heavily invested in the contest. The MASN broadcast panned to Baltimore’s dugout with the A’s threatening in the ninth. The collective fistpumps after Moreland lined out and the nervous look on Pedro Severino’s face resembled a playoff type of atmosphere.
The Orioles will have an opportunity to lock up the series with a win tomorrow afternoon. Matt Harvey takes the mound for Baltimore while Jesus Luzardo gets the nod for Oakland.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for April 30, 2021?
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Cedric Mullins (1-4, HR, 2 RBI)
John Means (7 innings, 3 hits, 2 R, 9 K, 1 BB)
César Valdez (Nearly blew the save, bounced back)