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The most amazing thing about the John Means no-hitter is how dramatic it wasn’t

No pitcher can throw a no-hitter without his defense doing some work for him, but John Means didn’t make the Orioles defense have to do that much.

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners
They tried to get a hit against him. They failed.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The longest-running streak for an MLB franchise to go without a solo no-hitter belonged to the Orioles until John Means did his thing yesterday. In the nearly 52 years since Jim Palmer twirled his complete game no-no, there were 124 other CG no-hitters. In the nearly 30 years since the O’s 1991 combined no-hitter, there had been 80 no-hitters across MLB. It seemed like it would never happen to us. And then, suddenly, it did.

Having tuned in to the sixth inning or later or a number of completed no-hitters and near-no-hitters, one thing that I always understood about no-hitters is that they don’t happen without at least one instance of “the play” - a moment where a fielder almost seems to be fueled by the magic in the stadium to power a superhuman effort and make a play where he would not have usually made the play.

The amazing thing about watching Means throw his no-hitter is that he did not even need “the play.” There simply wasn’t one. No one had to make an incredible play on a ground ball, or go full extension to field a sinking liner, or crash into the outfield fence to stop a ball from falling in.

Even the final outs had some tension sapped away when Trey Mancini hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning to make it a 6-0 game. There wasn’t the “What if he blows the no-hitter and then the Orioles still lose?” angle. It was about as drama-free as you can get. Though if you’re like me, you were probably watching with escalating tension anyway, nervous every time the camera cut from a batter to a fielder.

You have probably read by now about the uniqueness of the Means no-hitter. Only a third inning batter reaching on a dropped third strike kept it from being a perfect game bid, and he still faced the minimum number of batters because that runner was thrown out trying to steal second base. There had never before been a non-perfect no-hitter where only a dropped third strike kept the pitcher from perfection. It was a phenomenal feat of pitching.

Just how drama-free was it? Here are the game’s 27 outs ranked from least dramatic to most dramatic. You can see for yourself how many totally undramatic outs there were, and how even a lot of the dramatic ones weren’t that dramatic.

27-16. The 12 strikeouts recorded by John Means

As far as getting outs in a no-hitter, it doesn’t get any easier than a strikeout. The batter is out without the ball being put in play. The expected batting average (Statcast xBA) of a strikeout is always .000. If batters keep racking up foul balls before the putaway pitch, that’s bad, but across the whole game, only three at-bats took seven or more pitches to resolve. Means struck out seven of the nine Mariners batters at least once.

There was the one wrinkle of the dropped third strike to Sam Haggerty leading to one strikeout not generating an out. Haggerty was thrown out stealing on the very next pitch, so it’s almost like Means just struck him out and got the out. We now know this dropped third strike was the only thing keeping Means from a perfect game, but it happened in the third inning, before any “Wow, this is a perfect game!” feeling could sink in.

15-14. Foul pop-outs

15. In the fifth inning, Kyle Lewis popped out foul to first base for the first out. Ryan Mountcastle caught the ball near the front of the first base coach box.

14. In the ninth inning, Dylan Moore popped out foul to third base for the first out. Rio Ruiz caught the ball about two steps foul.

Like strikeouts, foul pop-outs have an xBA of .000. Even if disaster strikes and the fielder flubs the catch, they cannot be hits.

13-11. Popouts that landed in fair territory

All three of these were recorded as having an xBA of .010. That is to say that batted balls with similar exit velocities and launch angles are base hits about 1% of the time.

13. In the second inning, Tom Murphy popped out to shortstop for the second out.

12. In the fourth inning, Mitch Haniger popped out to shortstop for the first out. Ramón Urias caught it in short left field.

11. In the fourth inning, Ty France popped out to shortstop for the second out. Urias caught this in almost the same place as the previous out. Note that this was the only batted ball of the game that hit the Statcast “hard hit ball” threshold - that is, 95mph exit velocity or greater.

10. One of the least threatening outfield fly balls in history

10. In the third inning, J.P. Crawford hit a ball with a 44 degree launch angle that traveled 288 feet before being caught by DJ Stewart. This ball also had an xBA of .010.

9-7. Routine ground balls

Ground balls are just a little bit more dramatic than popouts and flyouts because they either require a successful throw to first base for the out, or the first baseman beating the runner to the bag for an out. But they mostly aren’t that dramatic.

9. In the first inning, Kyle Seager grounded out to first base unassisted. xBA: .040.

8. In the seventh inning, Kyle Seager grounded out to first base unassisted. xBA: .100.

7. In the sixth inning, Haggerty had a check swing make contact and land fair. The xBA on this 2-3 groundout was .160.

This makes seven innings worth of outs, of which none had any more than a 16% chance of being hits.

6-3. Lineouts where the fielder didn’t even have to move that much

There were four line drives with xBA ranging from .330 to .530. Looking only at xBA, some of these were a little threatening. I will embed the videos and you can decide for yourself if they were threatening.

6. In the third inning, Dylan Moore lined out to center field for the first out.

Cedric Mullins took two steps to his right and caught the ball. The xBA was .330.

5. In the second inning, Lewis lined out to third base.

Technically, this was the most threatening ball hit by a Mariner in the no-hitter. The xBA is .530. In the context of this play, it was very low drama. The ball was not hit that hard (85.5mph EV) and Maikel Franco does not appear to have even had to move to catch it.

4. In the fifth inning, Murphy lined out to shortstop for the second out.

Urias made a nice play here to catch the ball on the fly. Even if it had been a short hop, he still completed the throw to first base in time to beat Murphy to the bag. This had an xBA of .510, which... sure, whatever you say, Statcast. The video shows what it shows. Urias barely had to move to pick it just before it hit the ground.

3. In the ninth inning, Crawford lined out to shortstop to complete the no-hitter.

I am not the first person to point out the similarity between this out and the out that clinched the 1983 World Series for the Orioles. In the moment, it was sort of dramatic off the bat, but looking at it a day later, this is a soft line drive (73.3mph EV) and Urias only had to take two steps to catch it. Still, the xBA was .450, and it was dramatic because it was the last out.

This is 25 of the game’s 27 outs, of which you can say that maybe one of these 25 outs required any sort of out of the ordinary nice play to turn them into an out. So we’re up to eight innings worth of outs with barely any real drama.

2. Would this have been a home run at Oriole Park at Camden Yards?

If your answer to that question is yes, you might rate this as the most dramatic play of the game. Orioles fans have been trained to expect home runs on most decently struck fly balls to left field after 30 years of watching baseball at Camden Yards, and in recent years have been particularly trained to expect home runs because of that whole business of shattering a record by allowing 305 home runs in a season.

2. Let’s look at the video. In the eighth inning, Lewis flew out to the warning track in left field for the first out of the inning.

This was tense with a decent crack of the bat as the ball flew towards its destination. Austin Hays had plenty of time to get underneath it and catch it a couple of steps in front of the fence.

The dimensions of Camden Yards are generous to the hitters down the left field line, with just 333 feet to the foul pole. However, by time you hit left center, it’s 364 feet. This batted ball, according to Statcast, traveled 348 feet before it was caught by Hays. There are places in left field in Camden Yards where that’s a homer and places where it’s not.

Helpfully, in the first game of the Orioles-Mariners series, MASN showed a graphic that had the dimensions of OPACY overlaid onto the Mariners stadium. It’s not exact because where Hays caught the ball is going to be up to us to assess, but it’s a good starting point:

This comparison of the left field dimensions of the two parks shows that, in actuality, there’s a significant amount of space where Seattle’s left field fence is closer to home plate than the fence at Camden Yards. Although Camden is 333 down the line, it doesn’t stay at that distance. The fence cuts away from home in a way that Seattle’s left field fence doesn’t. Camden comes back in closer as the fence shifts in to left-center. It’s 364 in left-center; Seattle’s left field power alley measures 390 feet.

So, where does Hays catch the ball? Watch the video again with that in mind. He hauls the ball in and appears to be approximately even with the edge of the game scoreboard visible on that Statcast graphic from MASN. That’s right about where Orioles relievers sit, also visible on the graphic.

At that point, Seattle’s fences are, in fact, closer in to home plate than Camden’s. Hays does not look to be anywhere near the left-center space where Camden becomes deeper than the Seattle stadium.

Means said after yesterday’s game, “If it was Camden, it was probably gone,” but I think that is not actually true, based on this comparison. The xBA on this play was only .230. It felt dramatic off the bat, but Hays had it all the way, and it wouldn’t have been gone in Camden after all.

The closest thing this no-hitter had to “the play”

Once you get into the sixth, especially if the pitcher’s pitch count looks good, that’s interesting. So for this play to close out the sixth inning, that’s about as dramatic as this game got.

  1. In the sixth inning, Crawford flew out to center field for the final out.

The xBA on this ball - 73.8mph EV, 28 degree launch angle, 253 feet from home plate - was .480. That’s because sometimes the center fielder might be a slower guy, or he might be shaded more towards right-center due to how his team positioned him, and instead of a catch it turns into something of a Bermuda Triangle blooper.

Cedric Mullins is not that slow center fielder. Measured by Statcast, he has 86th percentile sprint speed among all 2021 MLB players. He rates at the same 86th percentile in the Outs Above Average stat. On this play, he was not shaded in an inconvenient direction.

On this play, Mullins looks to take about seven steps between when the camera cuts to him and when he catches the ball. He goes into a little slide as he catches the ball, which made it seem a little bit more dramatic than it was. But even this little bit of drama wasn’t much in doubt.

It was a tense experience once the game hit the sixth inning or so and there was still a no-hitter, but it wasn’t all that dramatic. Means was just so much better than the Mariners hitters yesterday that he didn’t even need “the play,” and that’s what I find the most amazing thing about it.