ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - John Means tied his career high tonight by working seven innings, pounding the strike zone as if he’s angry at it.
Ninety-eight pitches and 71 strikes for Means, who held the Rays to two earned runs and three total, didn’t walk a batter and left with the score tied.
His 2.50 ERA didn’t change. The game did after he left.
Eleven batters came to the plate and the Orioles improved to 25-61. They had been outscored 48-18 in the ninth before tonight.
The Rays fought back for three runs off Richard Bleier in the bottom of the ninth and brought Tommy Pham to the plate with runners on the corners. Shawn Armstrong struck him out with the count full for his third career save and second with Orioles.
A run scored on Pedro Severino’s fielder’s choice, a play at the plate going in the Orioles’ favor. Jonathan Villar tripled, the ball bouncing past center fielder Guillermo Heredia. Another run scored on a fielder’s choice, with Villar’s slide knocking the ball out of catcher Mike Zunino’s mitt.
Chance Sisco reached on an infield hit and Núñez launched his latest no-doubter.
The Orioles collected two more singles before Bleier entered in the bottom of the ninth. He hit the first batter and gave up back-to-back singles. Another run scored on a fielder’s choice, Joey Wendle came home on Heredia’s double and Armstrong replaced Bleier after Willy Adames’ infield hit.
Armstrong froze Pham with a 94 mph fastball and the Orioles were headed to Toronto.
Mychal Givens escaped a jam in the eighth after a leadoff single by Travis d’Arnaud and stolen base by pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier. A ground ball moved Kiermaier to third and Givens fielded Yandy Díaz’s grounder to the mound and made a diving tag at the plate.
Sisco threw out Díaz trying to steal, making him 3-for-14 this season.
Means extended his streak of working at least five innings to 13 starts in a row, which doesn’t threaten the club record but again illustrates how much he’s matured as a pitcher since his major league debut last September.
According to STATS, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer owns the Orioles record with 48 starts in a row from Aug. 27, 1974-April 9, 1976 - a remarkable run that probably comes as little surprise given his elite status for such an extended period.
Jeremy Guthrie ranks second with 46 starts in a row from Aug. 17, 2010-Sept. 24, 2011. This may shock a few people who don’t chisel his features on the Mount Rushmore of Orioles pitchers.
Here’s a list supplied by STATS that’s dominated by Palmer:
Jim Palmer: 48 - 08/27/1974 - 04/09/1976
Jeremy Guthrie: 46 - 07/17/2010 - 09/24/2011
Jim Palmer: 36 - 06/10/1970 - 05/23/1971
Jim Palmer: 29 - 06/26/1973 - 05/04/1974
Jim Palmer: 28 - 07/02/1976 - 05/12/1977
Mike Mussina: 28 - 04/11/1997 - 09/02/1997
Miguel González: 28 - 07/30/2012 - 07/20/2013
Means isn’t flirting with the longest active streak. It’s more like he’s admiring it from a distance. Working up the nerve to approach it and strike up a conversation.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: 31
Max Scherzer, Nationals: 20
German Márquez, Rockies: 19
Noah Syndergaard, Mets: 18
Mike Leake, Mariners: 17
Justin Verlander, Astros: 16
Chris Sale, Red Sox: 14
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 14
Sandy Alcantara, Marlins: 14
Daniel Norris, Tigers: 14
John Means, Orioles: 13
Walker Buehler, Dodgers: 13
Gerrit Cole, Astros: 13
Tyler Glasnow, Rays: 12
Jacob deGrom, Mets: 12
Lance Lynn, Rangers: 12
Mike Fiers, Athletics: 12
Michael Pineda, Twins: 12
You’ll notice that Means is hanging out with a lot of the cool kids.
The fifth inning wasn’t Means’ wall tonight. He burst through it at only 72 pitches.
Díaz led off the sixth with a double and scored on Avisaíl García’s game-tying single. Garcia was thrown out at second.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the third on Rio Ruiz’s throwing error while trying to get the force at second base after back-to-back one-out singles. Ruiz made a move as if he’d run to third, threw off-balance across his body and bounced the ball past Hanser Alberto.
Ruiz pounded his fist into his glove multiple times. The leather took a one-fisted beating.
How to make up for it? A three-run homer in the top half of the next inning.
More violent contact, this time bat to ball.
Ruiz took an Austin Pruitt pitch 407 feet to right field to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
The Rays seemed to be in a baton passing mood tonight with Ryne Stanek throwing 11 pitches while retiring the side in order in the first inning and Pruitt replacing him. Stanek struck out Villar and Sisco.
Pruitt killed the mood by covering the next five innings, but eight of the first 17 batters reached against him. Alberto reached on a bunt single with one out in the fourth, Chris Davis singled sharply up the middle and Ruiz hit his fifth homer.
Pruitt struck out the first two batters in the third and loaded the bases by walking Villar and Sisco and giving up a single to Trey Mancini. Núñez popped up to keep the game scoreless.
Means ran into trouble in the fifth when Heredia doubled with one out and Villar committed a fielding error with two down. Heredia made a baserunning blunder and was tagged out after Sisco faked a throw to second and started a rundown.
The Rays were a mess on the basepaths. They were in shambles by the ninth and the Orioles didn’t let them fully recover.
Hyde on his emotions in ninth: “We haven’t had a whole lot of come-from-behind wins or late-game wins. I was really happy with our at-bats and how we played the game obviously in that top of the ninth. We did a lot of good things.
“With the six-run lead, you feel like you should be able to hold that. It’s baseball and things happen. Richie’s done a nice job for us in the last few weeks. It’s just they stayed on some balls, hit some line drives the other way on him. Shawn Armstrong made a big pitch and fortunately we won.”
Hyde on doing little things right: “I thought we played the game pretty well, especially that inning, that ninth inning. We did a lot of things really, really well, things that we’ve talked a lot of about - the bunt, the contact reads, the patience at the plate against a tough closer that was struggling with his command. We just did a lot of good things well.”
Hyde on whether Givens is OK after dive: “Yeah he’s fine. He just banged his head a little bit when he dove. When he waved, he did some kind of wave, I was hoping it wasn’t waving the trainer out. It was more that he was calling time. That scared me a little bit.”
Hyde on Means: “I was really hoping we’d get him the win. I just thought he pitched really well. He gave up some ... end of the bat, reach-out homer that somehow goes out and then some soft hits. Pitched ahead in the count really well, I don’t think he was behind hardly anybody. No walks and that was huge. John Means is a really good pitcher and proving it.”
Means on start: “It feels pretty good. I was honestly happy to get past five innings. Over the last four starts I’ve gathered some nicknames along the way - ‘Five and Die,’ ‘Snorkel,’ that sort of deal. But yeah, I was trying to put an end to that. Glad I could go seven today.”
Means on All-Star Game: “I don’t know about starting. But I hope I can pitch.”
Ruiz on homer: “I definitely wanted to get something on the board just because the previous inning I made that error and it ended up being crucial and the unearned run for John. But I got a good pitch and put a barrel on it.”
Ruiz on error: “That was a mental mistake. I was right next to third and I could’ve easily stepped on third base and thrown to first. That can’t happen, but you learn from it and go on and luckily I was able to put runs on the board.”
Ruiz on playing behind Means: “All our guys, it’s fun, especially John. They keep you in the game, keep you on your toes. You’re always expecting something at you. He’s been lights out the whole entire year. He’s an All-Star for that reason, but definitely fun to play behind.”