A post-clinching hangover? Manager Brandon Hyde resting a few of the starters? Gunnar Henderson had the night off, and Adley Rutschman and Ramón Urías were late scratches with “something going around the clubhouse.” (Was that something “We drank our faces off after winning the AL East last night”?)
Whatever it was, the Orioles offense didn’t show up to this Friday night contest, which the Red Sox won handily behind an excellent seven innings from right hander Nick Pivetta. On a night where the Orioles honored a bona fide classic, ace Jim Palmer, before the game, tonight’s contest was a fitting showcase of great starting pitching. It’s just a shame Boston, with not exactly a standout rotation this season, was the one that did it better.
Now, let’s not let this result cloud what John Means did, which was continue to look solid in his return. Just three weeks into his return from Tommy John, the O’s lefty has been great, albeit with a few question marks. Is his stuff back? What about his command? Can he get swing-and-misses and not just lean on his defense (as a 2.60 ERA/5.60 FIP gap suggested)?
What you’d take away from tonight is mostly good news. Means didn’t allow a baserunner for 4 2/3 innings during which he struck out four. That included breezing through a five-pitch second inning throwing nothing but fastballs, and a good number of swings and misses on his changeup.
After this outing, I’d have no concerns about Means’ stuff or his command, but maybe a little about his stamina. The heater, which hit 93 early on, seemed to flag in the fifth inning. Rob Refsnyder took advantage of a hittable one, 91 mph in the middle of the zone, and Means hung a changeup to Trevor Story. On one swing, the Red Sox had their first two runs of the game. Bummer.
The fastball really was Means’ only hittable pitch. He allowed a single off it in the seventh, got one more out, and was pulled, to his annoyance.
Normally, allowing two runs to the Red Sox on three hits and no walks over six and one-third innings is not a problem. But whether this was the O’s “B-team” lineup (as the MASN booth said a couple times) or not, Means got zero run support, the hitters completely carved up by Nick Pivetta and his better-than-you’d-hoped-for stuff.
The 6’5” righty drew whiffs aplenty—he struck out ten—with a 96-mph fastball up in the zone, a gigantic curveball, and a sweeper that would appear to hit the zone, then tunnel away at the last minute.
In seven innings, the O’s only notched two hits against Pivetta, an infield grounder legged out by Ryan Mountcastle and a one-out double by Jordan Westburg in the fifth inning. All this despite Ben “Big Splash” McDonald’s valiant efforts with the hose in left field to get the offense going in the middle innings. It was a pretty flat performance.
I’m not saying Brandon Hyde and the Orioles weren’t trying to win this one. But I am saying that a lot of players got a rest tonight. That includes some of the more reliable members of the bullpen.
Which explains why, with one out in the seventh, Hyde called for Jorge López, who hadn’t pitched in a week and isn’t eligible to pitch in the postseason. No complaints, though: López walked Trevor Story, but he also struck out two and drew a double-play ball.
Hyde also called on Shintaro Fujinami to
prove that he can actually throw strikes pitch the ninth. I can’t say that, if I were the manager, this would make me trust him in a close postseason game. Just one run scored, but it was an inning full of suspense—and not the good kind. The kind created almost singlehandedly by the pitcher himself.
The 6’6” righty immediately coughed up a leadoff walk to the speedy Ceddanne Rafaela, who stole second and took third on one of James McCann’s less beautiful throws. (Him, too, a little under the weather tonight?) Fuji almost nabbed Rafaela at the plate on a Rafael Devers nubber, but no dice. 3-0, Boston. Justin Turner blooped a tough-luck double just over third base. No outs, men on second and third. It wasn’t pretty, but Hyde was going to let Fujinami figure things out. That can’t have been super pleasant for all the fans in the stands, though. After 23 pitches, Fuji finally had his first out, a swinging K, then he got a shallow flyout to Austin Hays. All the stadium was waiting for Devers, sitting on third, to test Haysie by running. It would have been fun to see it if he had, as Hays delivered a one-hop bullet to the plate anyway. The fans finally did get their webgem, but it came on a beautiful sliding stop by Ryan Mountcastle at first base, instead.
There are no “Most Birdland Player” polls in losses, but if we did one, Mountcastle would run away with it. Not only did Mounty, showing no lingering effects from his beer-powered Blink 182 rendition last night, play great defense at first, he went 2-for-4, collecting two of the team’s three hits, including one 100-mph rocket off Garrett Whitlock in the ninth. Having Mounty’s bat heat up for the postseason would be pretty sweet.
The good news: this game didn’t mean a whole lot. It would be nice to take the season series from Boston, and to beat or tie the 1971 team’s 101 wins, or the 1979 team’s 102. But if any team deserves to put their cleats up and phone one in, it’s the 100-win Orioles right now.