It took them nine full innings, but the O’s lineup finally figured out how to hit with runners on base, topping the Nationals 5-4 on a walk-off fielder’s choice that clinched a sweep over their regional neighbors to cap a tremendous weekend of baseball in Baltimore.
Before the late-game madness ensued, John Means made his second start since returning from a lengthy IL stint last week. He still looked like a lesser pitcher than the one that performed like a Cy Young candidate earlier in the season, but it did represent a step forward from his previous outing.
The O’s ace pitched into the seventh inning and ultimately left the game with his team in a competitive place. However, he was far from dominant. Means got whiffs on just 14% of opponent swings. That is down significantly from his 27.8% whiff rate on the year, and he was only able to strike out two batters all day. He also saw his spin rate down slightly on each of his offerings. It is probably still a bit early to draw any reasonable conclusions there, but it wouldn’t seem to be an arm strength issue as his velocity was up slightly on everything but his change-up.
Means did appear to be battling his command a bit throughout the start. He hit three batters, twice with a fastball against Alcides Escobar and once with a slider to Josh Harrison. It was also a fastball that he left in the middle of the plate to Ryan Zimmmerman in the sixth inning, and the 16-year MLB veteran launched it just over the right-centerfield fence for a crushing three-run homer.
Ryan Zimmerman still stuffing the career stat sheet...— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 25, 2021
Career H No. 1⃣8⃣2⃣4⃣
Career HR No. 2⃣8⃣1⃣
Career RBI No. 1⃣0⃣4⃣4⃣
Career RBI No. 1⃣0⃣4⃣5⃣
Career RBI No. 1⃣0⃣4⃣6⃣
Career R No. 9⃣5⃣4⃣#NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/3zdzkBzNzF
Other than that Zimmerman blast, Means was steady. He bounced back from a rough first inning in which he allowed only one run despite loading up the bases with no outs, and then faced the minimum of 12 batters between the second and fifth frames. And again he showed some resilience to return to the mound in the seventh inning after a difficult sixth, pushing his pitch count to 87, a nine-pitch increase from last week. All in all, it was a positive albeit underwhelming performance.
On the offensive side of things, the Orioles had traffic on the bases in every single inning of this game, but they were completely incapable of manufacturing runs without the help of the home run ball until the ninth inning. The first three of their runs came on solo shots: Trey Mancini in the first, Maikel Franco in the second, and Ryan McKenna in the third.
Mancini’s blast was gargantuan, traveling a ridiculous 455 feet. Franco’s came a pitch after he probably should have walked, but the ump did the pitcher a favor on a borderline strike call that quickly backfired. And McKenna’s was the first long ball of his big league career. All very cool, but would have been nice to have some runners on.
The closest the O’s came to scoring without the long ball was the eighth inning. Cedric Mullins and Mancini delivered back-to-back singles to begin the frame. Ryan Mountcastle erased Mancini with a 4-6-3 double play. And then DJ Stewart struck out in an eight-pitch at-bat to leave Mullins stranded 90 feet from home.
But all was forgiven in the bottom of the ninth inning as the O’s had their way with Nationals closer Brad Hand. Franco was hit by a pitch that bounced a couple of feet in front of the plate. McKenna sent him to third base on a single into right-center field. The hot-hitting Austin Hays pinch hit for Domingo Leyba and worked a walk to load the bags for Pat Valaika, who drove in the tying run and moved the eventual winning run to third base with a sacrifice fly to right field.
That set the stage for another pinch hitter. Ramon Urías stepped in for Austin Wynns. He hit a grounder to the back-hand side of Nationals third baseman Carter Kieboom. McKenna took off on contact. Kieboom gathered himself and fired home, but the throw pulled catcher Tres Barrea to his right slightly. The ball beat McKenna to the plate, but Barrera was unable get the tag down. McKenna slid just out of reach to give the O’s a walk-off, sweep-clinching win. A quick review by the umpiring crew confirmed the call. What a glorious outcome to a fun weekend at the Yard.
Gonna run home and grab a broom real quick pic.twitter.com/K9p1fNejam— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 25, 2021
It should be noted that this was only possible because the Orioles bullpen was, once again, quite good. Paul Fry came in and got out of Means’ mess in the seventh. Cesar Valdez had the dead fish working just enough before getting into an ninth-inning jam, but it was no problem as Cole Sulser came in and cleaned things up.
The Birds will take Monday off before welcoming another NL East foe, the Miami Marlins, to town for a two-game set beginning on Tuesday. The sudden sensation that is Spenser Watkins will be on the mound to open the series. First pitch is 7:05 p.m.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sunday, July 25th?
This poll is closed
Ryan McKenna (2-for-4, 1st MLB homer, scored winning run, nice defense)
Paul Fry (3 SO, got out of Means’ jam)
Ramon Urías (Game-winning RBI)
Maikel Franco (1-for-3, HR, scored tying run)
John Means (ND, 6.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 2 SO)