How sweet it is to have an ace starting pitcher. In his third start since coming off the injured list, John Means had his changeup working and was very effective on the mound against the Tigers.
It was a really easy first inning for Means, with the first three Detroit batters retired on changeups. Derek Hill struck out on four pitches, Jonathan Schoop grounded out, and Robbie Grossman popped out to short.
The Birds reached Tigers rookie starter Matt Manning for a run in the top of the third, with Cedric Mullins serving as the catalyst. He singled with one out, stole second base, and came around to score on Ryan Mountcastle’s single to center. It was Mullins’ 18th stolen base of the year.
Tigers catcher Eric Haase hit his 18th home run in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at one apiece. It was the continuation of a home run trend for John Means this year, as he entered the game averaging 1.7 home runs allowed per nine innings. Before tonight’s matchup, he’d allowed three homers in his past two starts (11.2 innings).
Means has allowed multiple home runs in seven starts this year, but that was not the case tonight. Haase’s long ball in the fourth was the only one allowed by the O’s ace tonight.
With two outs in the fourth, Willi Castro reached first base after strike three scooted past Pedro Severino. But there was no more damage done, as Means struck out the next batter looking on a 3-2 changeup.
Just like that, the O’s took the lead right back with their first batter of fifth. Maikel Franco hit a high fly ball to left field that didn’t look like it would leave the park at first. But it just kept carrying and eluded the grasp of Robbie Grossman for a solo home run. Franco could be seen mouthing the word ‘wow’ as he rounded first base and went into his home run trot. It was his 11th long ball of the year.
Baltimore made more trouble for Manning in the top of the sixth by loading the bases on a single and two walks. With two outs, Franco grounded into a fielder’s choice that should have ended the inning. But Willi Castro dropped the ball on a force out at second, so everyone was safe and Mountcastle crossed home plate. Then Pat Valaika dumped a two-run single into shallow right field to extend Baltimore’s lead to 5-1.
That was the end of the night for Matt Manning, whose final pitching line was 5.2 innings, seven hits, five runs (two earned), two walks, and three strikeouts.
With his pitch count at 85 entering the sixth inning, Means had to face the middle of the Tigers order, starting with Oriole killer Miguel Cabrera. Detroit’s designated hitter hit a long fly ball out to right, Eric Haase grounded out to third, and Jeimer Candelario hit a long fly ball out to left.
Means threw 99 pitches over six innings, allowing four hits, one run, and one walk with six strikeouts.
Paul Fry came on to pitch the seventh and worked around a throwing error by Ramon Urias for a scoreless inning. He was followed to the mound by Dillon Tate in the eighth, who recorded a scoreless inning of his own despite a Robbie Grossman double.
Manager Brandon Hyde elected to bring Tanner Scott into the game with a four-run lead in the ninth. The flame-throwing left-hander walked the first batter he saw, Candelario, on five pitches. Then he hit Willi Castro. Tim Cossins could be seen on the phone in the O’s dugout, and Cole Sulser began warming up quickly in the bullpen. After Zack Short walked on six pitches to load the bases, Scott was removed from the game.
Sulser entered the game and induced a ground ball to first, with the Orioles trading an out for a run. 5-2, O’s. He proceeded to strike out back-to-back hitters — Derek Hill and Jonathan Schoop — to put out Scott’s fire and shut the door on the Tigers. It was Sulser’s sixth save of the year.
The O’s offense was paced by leadoff hitter Cedric Mullins, who had two hits, a walk, a steal, and a run scored in the game. Ryan Mountcastle contributed three hits, while Urias and Valaika had two hits apiece. Even more impressive, the Birds had four two-out RBI. Talk about clutch hitting!
The Orioles ride into tomorrow’s finale with two wins in a row, and a win on Sunday afternoon would seal a series victory in Motown.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for July 31, 2021?
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Cole Sulser (escaped a bases loaded jam in the ninth for the save)
Ryan Mountcastle (three hits and one RBI)
Pat Valaika (two hits and two RBI)
John Means (one run allowed in six innings)
Maikel Franco (solo home run and two RBI)