John Means found a needed distraction again tonight as he stepped on the mound. His thoughts locked on baseball. An escape of sorts before his personal life again takes hold and spins him around.
Making his second start since returning from the family medical emergency list, Means plowed through the Rangers batting order for six innings and waited for the Orioles to hand him a lead.
He got it, but the first hard-hit ball of the night against him resulted in a two-run homer for Nick Solak in the seventh that propelled the Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles before an announced crowd of 8,209 at Camden Yards.
Means was gone after 6 2/3 innings, three of the four hits against him coming in the seventh, and the Orioles fell to 46-94 overall and 22-47 at home.
Elvis Andrus led off the seventh with a grounder that got past first baseman Renato Núñez, who broke toward the bag as the ball passed him on the other side. Willie Calhoun struck out, but Solak reached the seats in right field on a first-pitch changeup, the ball traveling 404 feet with an exit velocity of 102.5 mph, per Statcast.
The Rangers hadn’t come close to barreling a ball like that until Solak produced his second home run.
Logan Forsythe doubled with two outs and Means left to a nice ovation, fans behind the dugout rising to their feet.
Richard Bleier was charged with a run in the ninth after Branden Kline inherited a runner and Forsythe sent a scorching ground ball past Jonathan Villar for an RBI single. Mason Williams doubled to open the bottom half, the sixth time in nine innings that the Orioles put the leadoff hitter on base, and Rio Ruiz walked with two outs. They were denied again.
Núñez’s sacrifice fly off left-hander Kolby Allard in the sixth gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead that didn’t hold up for long.
Means had traveled to the Kansas City area to be with his father, Alan, who recently was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He faced the Royals, his hometown team, after being reinstated and rationed them to two runs over seven innings in a 14-2 win.
He retired the first eight batters tonight before Jose Trevino reached on an infield single. Eighteen of the first 19 were sent back to the bench.
Soft contact and skimpy production against Means, whose spirits are lifted during such a difficult period of his life by the outpouring of love and support inside the clubhouse.
“I don’t think you can ever put yourself in someone’s shoes who’s going through such a tough situation, so I don’t want to answer for how he’s feeling or where his mind is and how his mindset’s like,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the game.
“It’s a situation that we’re obviously really behind John. He’s going through a lot. He’s very close to his father. We saw his father in Kansas City, as well as the rest of the family, so we’re rallying behind him. You just don’t know how he feels, but you’re hoping he can put it behind him for those three hours and pitch well.”
Means was dominant until the seventh and it took less than two hours.
The Orioles held a pregame moment of silence for former pitcher Tommy Phoebus, who died today at 77.
Phoebus went 50-37 with a 3.06 ERA in five seasons with the Orioles and earned the win in Game 2 of the 1970 World Series with 1 2/3 scoreless relief innings after replacing Mike Cuellar. He threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox on April 27, 1968 at Memorial Stadium.
Tonight marked the first game played at Camden Yards with the extended netting to both foul poles. And the scoreboard features each batter’s OPS next to the averages.
The Orioles put the first two runners on base in the first inning, with Hanser Alberto laying down a bunt hit and Trey Mancini lining a single into left field, but Allard escaped the jam with a fielder’s choice grounder, a line drive to second baseman Rougned Odor and a popup.
Allard surrendered three consecutive singles in the fourth, but Anthony Santander was thrown out at third base while trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt. Santander had extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Mark Trumbo grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and the game remained scoreless. Unless you believe that 0-0 is a score. I’ve been reprimanded on Twitter.
Mancini led off the sixth with a double, Santander slapped a ground ball to the right side of the infield to move him to third base and Núñez flied to shallow center field. Mancini broke for home and slid in safely as Delino DeShields’ throw tailed toward the first base line.
Trumbo led off the bottom of the seventh inning with his third double since coming off the 60-day injured list Monday.
Stevie Wilkerson walked with one out to bring right-hander Emmanuel Clase into the game and the Orioles couldn’t cash in. Ruiz grounded into a force, a dropped throw by Clase preventing a double play, and Alberto flied out.
Mancini greeted Rafael Montero with a leadoff single in the eighth inning for his third hit of the night. He moved to second with one out and was tagged in a rundown on Núñez’s comebacker.
The media will descend upon Means at his locker, microphones and recorders pushed near his face. He’ll be polite while recounting his early successes and the fateful seventh. Finally left alone, he’ll spin back to the other, more important, side of his life.
Update: The Orioles were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Hyde on Means: “I didn’t think he was especially sharp in the first, but he really settled down and had a really good changeup going. He was just cruising into the seventh inning. He was really throwing the ball well and left a changeup out over for the two-run homer. But that really wasn’t the story. He did a great job, but we just didn’t hit with runners in scoring position. We didn’t do a very good job with a situational hit tonight. We had our opportunities. He definitely deserved better, but we just didn’t get it done offensively tonight.”
Hyde on offensive issues: “I thought we faced a really good starter. Allard’s got really good stuff. He makes it tough. He has a tough cutter. He has a nice mix of pitches and he throws strikes and he’s competitive. He did a really nice job. We hit a couple of balls on the screws that didn’t work out. We made a couple of baserunning mistakes that helped them out.
“We had a runner on second base with nobody out multiple times. The one time we scored we did a nice job of situational hitting. Anthony giving himself up and then Noonie with the sac fly. Besides that, we didn’t have much after that.”
Hyde on baserunning issues: “We’ve had a couple of tough nights in a row. That’s no secret. The first one with Anthony, it’s not easy because you’re at second base and you see the ball get past the catcher. So that’s the first thing he saw, the ball past the catcher and it hits the umpire. With nobody out we want to be a little more sure at third base. That’s something hopefully we’ll learn from there.
“Trey was just being aggressive. You’ve got to see the ball by the pitcher there. He makes a mistake, that happens. It’s something we talk about constantly. We run the bases during BP; we have specific groups where we focus on development here in the big leagues. We had a long discussion about it this afternoon and it’s up to them to perform and do it in game situations. Sometimes, it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But we’ve had a couple of tough games on the bases.”
Means on first six innings: “I feel like I was getting ahead well. I feel like my changeup was doing what it should have done. Yeah, it’s frustrating because it just seems to be that last inning that I need to get through and as a starter you have to finish the outing. It’s something that I need to start doing if I’m going to win over this coaching staff and something that I pride myself in.”
Means on difference in seventh: “One bad pitch, honestly. It was a changeup that I left up first pitch of the at-bat and he hit it out. The one to Forsythe, I just tried to get ahead with a fastball. I think he swings at the first pitch about five percent of the time and he swung at the first pitch and doubled, so just one of those things, I’ve got to finish strong.”
Means on his last three or four outings: “I think that’s why it is so frustrating, because I feel like my stuff is really, really good right now and I feel like with the way my stuff is working that I’ve got to finish that outing.”
Means on what this last month has left for him to prove to coaches: “Just consistency, you know? Going out and finishing strong. Compared to the innings I’ve thrown in the minors I’m not quite to that level yet. I finished with 160 innings last year. I think I’m about 130 now, so it’s one of those things I want to get my innings up, I want to go out there and go seven innings every time and finish strong.”
Means on separating personal life from baseball: “It’s tough. I have a different perspective on this game because of everything that’s going on. I try not to let this sport affect me a whole lot. I go out there pretty loose because there’s a lot more things that are a lot more important.”
Mancini on Means: “He’s pitched really well a lot of the year, but tonight was a little different. I think even the pace of the game. He usually works pretty fast, but he was in total control until the top of the seventh. He had that hit sneak through and then just left one pitch up to Solak, but besides that he did an incredible job. Wish we could have gotten him a win tonight.”
Mancini on offensive failings: “Yeah, when you get the leadoff guy on that much, you’ve got to capitalize a little bit more than one time. Their pitcher, Allard did a really good job. I know he’s a young kid, but he looked the part out there and he did a good job, especially us getting the first guy on so many times. He did a good job of damage control. You’ve got to tip your cap there, but as an offense we’ve got to find a way to score more than once.”
Mancini on Means separating personal issues: “Yeah, it’s absolutely incredible. I have no idea what’s it like to be going through what he’s going through, but he did such a good job in Kansas City. That was one of the coolest things to be a part of for me in a long time, just to see him in the way he’s handled the whole situation. It’s extremely difficult. I’m really proud of the way he’s handled himself throughout the entire process because I can’t imagine what he’s going through.”