Have you heard the good news??? John Means is back!
2021 has been a tale of two halves for the O’s lefty ace: after posting a first-half ERA of 2.28, a stiff shoulder knocked him out for over a month and since getting back, his ERA had been 4.72. His stuff didn’t look as sparkling. Two starts ago, Means brutally assessed his own outing: “My changeup’s kind of sucked lately, to be honest.”
Well, the Means changeup was [fire emoji] tonight, helping to throw off Phillies hitters right and left over 6.2 scoreless innings in which they managed just four hits and a walk. Means retired 15 of 16 at one point and whiffed the NL’s presumptive MVP, Bryce Harper, twice. He threw 14 curveballs, dropping them in for strikes seemingly at will. MASN’s Jim Palmer commented at one point: “You just cannot guess what’s coming next.”
Meanwhile, the Phillies’ Ranger Suárez, who came into this one with a 1.50 ERA, has been phenomenal at home. So what would give?
The difference maker was the first inning. Both pitchers took a little while to warm up, but Means’ early command issues resulted in just a walk; Suárez’s resulted in a severe case of “middleitis,” as Jim Palmer sometimes calls it, delightfully. Before tonight, Suárez had given up two or more runs exactly three times in 36 appearances all year. Tonight, he allowed two runs in the first inning.
Credit the Birds, too, who showed a ruthless approach against him. Austin Hays, hitting .326 over the month of September, led off the game with a first-pitch single. Ryan Mountcastle battled before whiffing on the eighth pitch, but Anthony Santander clobbered a 110-mph single the opposite way. If you were wondering why Pedro Severino was batting cleanup today, well, know that you weren’t alone. But sometimes the baseball gods know more than we do: Severino sat on a changeup, got a juicy one, and stroked it in to center field to plate Austin Hays. (Sevvie also had a 2-for-4 day. So what do I know.)
Then, improbably, Ryan McKenna (batting fifth for some reason—see a theme?) drove the first pitch he saw the opposite way—a single! Santander chugged home from second base and Bryce Harper’s throw home was up the line, allowing the O’s second run to score. Five Orioles, four singles to lead off the game. All showed great approaches.
But as they say, good pitching beats good hitting, and Suárez soon righted himself and became lockdown over the next five innings. The remaining Orioles hits were scattered around. Kélvin Gutiérrez singled in the second (Gutiérrez, for Pete’s sake!) and Hays walked. Pedro Severino singled in the third. Pat Valaika singled in the sixth. That was it.
That was it, that is, until the seventh inning, when Phillies’ reliever Sam Coonrod gave up the game’s most incredible—or most humiliating, depending on your perspective—hit of the evening.
John Means, 0-for-2 tonight with one pretty passable bunt, came up to bat in the seventh in a surprising show of his own determination not to leave the game. The Phillies’ Coonrod threw him a 98-mph fastball down the middle. Means smacked the ball, which sailed over the centerfielder’s head to absolutely everyone’s amazement—mine, the broadcast team’s, the dugout’s, his own. It was exactly the second hit of Means’ career, and his first for extra bases. The dugout lost it. Means got to keep the ball.
That's a DOUBLE for John Means ‼️ pic.twitter.com/MyKgS42Adh— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 21, 2021
Sadly, a wild pitch drew Means over toward third base, and his “slide” was what I imagine average people who don’t play baseball do. So he made the Orioles’ third out at third base. It would have sucked if it had mattered.
It didn’t. But it got close a few times.
Means entered the seventh with a pitch count of 91, and flirted with danger. J.T. Realmuto singled the other way before McCutchen, who’d stung the ball all day today, flew out, to Means’ visible excitement. An infield single brought up the go-ahead run in Didi Gregorius. Gregorius hit a grounder at Ryan Mountcastle, who gloved it and threw to Richie Martin, covering second. They couldn’t get the double play. With two outs and men on first and third, Brandon Hyde came out with a grin and Means reluctantly conceded it was time to go.
Cole Sulser came in needing just one out. Facing him was Freddy Galvis, who I realized I’d think a lot less fondly of if he screwed up Means’ start. He almost did, roping a fastball into right field. But his liner flew safely into Anthony Santander’s glove. Whew. Means’ final line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO. And—don’t forget—1-for-3 at the plate with a double.
For this Orioles bullpen, it was a skimpy lead to cling to. But cling they did. In the eighth, Sulser got a huge solid from Kélvin Gutiérrez, who scooped up a grounder and fired to nab a speedy Odúbal Herrera by a hair.
For the ninth, Brandon Hyde turned to Tyler Wells, whose turn as a closer lately has been … a little scary. What Wells did in the ninth was, again, very scary. He uncorked a first-pitch fastball that Bryce Harper scorched 401 feet, right to the warning track, where a subbed-in Cedric Mullins was waiting. Exhale! Down 3-and-1 in the count to Realmuto, Wells’ high fastball proved just tempting enough to draw another fly to the warning track. Hey, whatever works, right? Andrew McCutchen was the Phillies’ last chance. He popped it up! Down came the ball, right into Pedro Severino’s glove—and out of it—but then back in! Severino bobbled the pop fly, caught it again, gave a huge laugh and stuck out his tongue as if to mock all of us who still care about the fortunes of this hopeless team.
It’s all good, Pedro. You called an awesome one tonight. Ballgame.
And with that, John Means has an ERA of 3.25 in 25 starts this season and his first win since July. I hope you caught it. If not, pop open a beer and stream this one, or at least the Means highlights. It was a brilliant performance.
Who is the Most Birdland Player for September 20, 2021?
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John Means (6.2 IP, 0 R, 6 SO, 4 H, 1 BB, hit a double)