This is real life.
Bask in it. Celebrate it. Go crazy.
The Orioles’ John Means just threw a No. Freaking. Hitter.
And not just a no-freaking-hitter. Means’ history-making performance against the Mariners on Wednesday was, by any reasonable estimation, the greatest game ever pitched by a Baltimore Oriole.
If someone ever asks, “Why do you love baseball?” This is why. On any given day — even a random Wednesday afternoon in May — something incredible, something historic, something you’ll remember for the rest of your life can happen when you least expect it.
And on May 5, 2021, John Means entered the record books forever.
“I can’t put it into words right now, It’s unbelievable,” Means said on MASN after the once-in-a-lifetime performance, adding, “I know my dad (Alan, who passed away last year) was there today. I know he was, back there telling me what pitch to throw.”
I’m not sobbing, you’re sobbing.
How do you find the words to describe this kind of achievement? Well, nobody in Baltimore has needed to in quite some time. This was the Orioles’ first no-hitter since four pitchers combined on one in 1991, and their first individual no-no since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer on Aug. 13, 1969. It’s fair to say that a large swath of Orioles fans had never witnessed one in their lifetimes.
Means saw to it that the Orioles’ 51-year drought of solo no-nos became a thing of the past this afternoon. Oh, was he good today. #analysis
Means faced the minimum 27 batters, and the only one who reached base did so on a strikeout, of all things, with a wild-pitch third strike eluding Pedro Severino in the third inning and allowing Sam Haggerty to reach. Severino promptly threw out Haggerty trying to steal second. And the rest, quite literally, was history.
Means worked inside. Outside. Up. Down. Mixed his pitches. Got ahead in the count. Showed impeccable command. Mariners batters flailed helplessly, one after the other, never coming particularly close to hitting a ball solidly (minus a J.P. Crawford sinking liner to center that Cedric Mullins snared with a slide). Means looked as if he could’ve pitched 18 innings without the M’s ever standing a chance. He threw a first-pitch strike to 26 of the 27 batters he faced. He struck out 12, including their three best hitters — Mitch Haniger, Ty France, and Kyle Seager — five times. It was absolute perfection.
For Orioles fans, who are unaccustomed to seeing one of their pitchers even sniff a no-hitter, it took a while for reality to set in about where this game could be headed. But as Means dispatched one hitter after another, cruising through the fifth (at which point the No-Hitter alert popped up on MLB GameDay), suddenly it started to look as if something special really could happen.
Meanwhile, the Orioles gave Means some early run support. Maikel Franco led off the second with a single, then was replaced on a fielder’s choice by Ryan Mountcastle, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Having a runner in scoring position seemed to portend certain doom for the Birds, who were a measly 1-for-18 in such situations in the first two games of the series. But this time, fortune turned in their favor. DJ Stewart squibbed a slow grounder to the left side that normally would’ve been fielded by the shortstop Crawford, had he not been shifted to the right side of the infield. Instead, it trickled untouched into shallow left-center field, allowing Mountcastle to score as Stewart hustled to second. As they say, it’s a line drive in the box score.
Ramon Urias followed with a sharp single to left. Stewart came charging for the plate, arriving at almost the same time as the left fielder Haggerty’s throw. But catcher Tom Murphy, noticing Urias heading to second, just...didn’t put the tag on Stewart, and instead threw out Urias. It looked to me like it would have been a bang-bang play at the plate if Murphy had applied the tag, but instead the O’s plated their second run before the final out.
Aside from that, Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi pitched a whale of a game, not that anyone’s even going to remember he pitched today. He blanked the Birds for the next four innings before Pat Valaika tagged him for a solo homer in the seventh. The Orioles put the game out of reach in the eighth on a Trey Mancini three-run blast off Aaron Fletcher.
And I’ll be honest — those last three paragraphs are the only ones I dared to write while the game was still in progress. I don’t believe in jinxes, exactly, but when an Orioles pitcher is chasing immortality, hurtling toward a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in over 50 years, I don’t want to be the guy who brought the whole thing crashing down because I typed the words “no-hitter” before the deed was done. Better safe than sorry, you know?
All around Birdland, I’m sure, Orioles fans watching the action were entangled in similar superstitions. Wearing your lucky hat? Don’t dare take it off to scratch your head. Want to get off the couch? Don’t even think about it. Need to use the bathroom? Just hold it in. THIS IS TOO IMPORTANT.
As the pressure built, Means remained remarkably composed. He began the bottom of the sixth with his seventh strikeout, then needed a total of just three pitches to set down the next two hitters. The Mariners, to their credit, made Means work in the seventh, perhaps figuring that if they couldn’t hit him, they should at least tire him out and hope a reliever had to come in. Haniger struck out to end a six-pitch at-bat, then France battled Means for nine pitches...which, of course, ended in a strikeout. Down went Seager on a grounder, and Means was six outs away from history.
The fun almost stopped in the eighth inning. Kyle Lewis led off with a drive to deep left field that, off the bat, looked bleacher-bound. But the ball died on the warning track, landing comfortably in the glove of left fielder Austin Hays. Means then struck out both Murphy and Evan White in six-pitch at-bats, pushing him over 100 pitches for the afternoon.
No matter. There was no way he was coming out of the game. The eyes of the national media were on Means as he took the mound in the ninth.
First up was Dylan Moore, who worked the count 2-2 and then popped up harmlessly in foul territory. Third baseman Rio Ruiz squeezed it. Two outs away.
Then came Haggerty, who also worked the count 2-2. Means got him to whiff on strike three. ONE OUT AWAY. THIS IS HAPPENING.
Means extended the suspense no further. On his first pitch to Crawford, the Mariners shortstop swatted a soft line drive, directly into the glove of Urias at short.
And there it was. History. Every Oriole swarmed the mound, dogpiling Means in sheer jubilation to envelop the 28-year-old left-hander with bear hugs and handshakes. Their celebration, no doubt, echoed what was happening in the living rooms of ecstatic Orioles fans everywhere.
He did it. By gum, he actually did it. John Means is on top of the world. And we’re all along for the ride.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Wednesday, May 5?
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JOHN. FREAKING. MEANS.