A sense of calm and comfort swept over Orioles manager Brandon Hyde today as he glanced at the bottom of his lineup card.
Where the starting pitcher is listed.
Left-hander John Means was assigned the task of getting the Orioles through the early innings, which hadn’t been done lately. No more instant deficits and quick exits. No more sorting through an expanded bullpen to cover the majority of a game.
The staff ace was back on the mound and still on a roll. It just slowed a little in the sixth.
Means plowed through the Dodgers lineup until A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer to move his club in front. Dwight Smith Jr. tied the game in the bottom half with his second RBI of the night, Jonathan Villar belted a three-run homer in the seventh and the Orioles held on to defeat the Dodgers 7-3 before an announced crowd of 11,438 at Camden Yards.
The losing streak has ended at six games and the Orioles are 47-98 to match last year’s win total.
Pinch-hitter Renato Núñez drew a leadoff walk against left-hander Caleb Ferguson and pinch-runner Mason Williams moved to third base on Austin Hays’ career-high third hit. The runners held on pinch-hitter Mark Trumbo’s bouncer to third, but Villar demolished the next pitch, a 93 mph fastball, and took at least nine steps up the line while admiring its flight.
Statcast measured the distance at 443 feet, the 6,106th home run hit in the majors this season a new record.
Means held the Dodgers to two runs and four hits in 6 1/3 innings, with one walk and six strikeouts. He’s allowed two runs or fewer in five consecutive starts over 32 innings and his ERA is down to 3.47.
Shawn Armstrong, celebrating his 29th birthday, replaced Means in the seventh after Enrique Hernández’s leadoff single and Hays’ sliding catch to deny Corey Seager. He stranded both runners and followed up with a scoreless eighth.
Pedro Severino took away a save opportunity for Mychal Givens with a two-run shot off Adam Kolarek in the eighth. Givens worked the ninth anyway and allowed his first run in 10 appearances on Matt Beaty’s RBI single.
A one-out single by David Freese in the first inning was the lone hit off Means until Austin Barnes led off the sixth with a double into the left field corner. Barnes walked with one out in the third.
The rookie was set to cruise control. He had a five-pitch second inning, a 10-pitch fourth and an 11-pitch fifth to leave his count at 59. Two baserunners. Nothing to suggest that he’d begin to bend or break.
Pollock followed Barnes’ double with a full-count home run to center field for a 2-1 lead. Means had lost a seven-pitch battle that included his four-seamer, slider and changeup - the latter pitch driven over the fence.
The inning left Means at 82 pitches and the bullpen temporarily quiet. He threw five more and came out.
Hanser Alberto led off the sixth with a walk against Joe Kelly, only his 14th this season, and moved up on a wild pitch with one out. Trey Mancini struck out, but Smith grounded a single into right field for a 2-2 tie.
Dodgers starter Ross Stripling, making only his third appearance since July, worked the first three innings. Hyde knew that the right-hander would be on a short leash and the bullpen would come into play.
Mancini and Smith opened the second with back-to-back doubles for a 1-0 lead. Smith was thrown out trying to advance on a bad throw from the outfield.
Smith produced his first multi-hit game since July 24 and multi-RBI game since July 23.
Hays led off the third inning with a single for his first major league hit since Sept. 29, 2017. He doubled to right-center field in the fifth, on a 98 mph fastball from Dustin May, for his first two-hit game since Sept. 21, 2017.
Stevie Wilkerson walked, but Villar grounded into a force to douse the rally and keep the lead at one run.
Villar made up for it later, with Hyde also able to find comfort at the top of the lineup card.
Hyde on whether 47 wins is important: “It’s not important to me. For me that’s last year, this is this year. We want to get better every year. I don’t think 47 wins is anything to celebrate. We’ll celebrate when we get 95.”
Hyde on Means: “I thought he pitched great. That’s a tough lineup to pitch against. He just left a couple changeups elevated with too much of the plate in the sixth inning. But besides that really gave us the start we needed.
“They were aggressive on him. He got a lot of popups and fly balls early in the game and I just thought it was a great performance against a good club.”
Hyde on Hays: “I think anytime we bring anybody up we love to see their tools and we love to see guys have success. Austin kind of unfairly sat for five or six days before he got here, but he’s settling in and I think you saw his athleticism tonight. We’ve seen it in the outfield and I loved the way he ran the bases. I like the way he uses the whole field. Got some fastballs and drove them the other way, so that was great to see.”
Hyde on Means sliders: “The slider has definitely improved. And when you’re facing Cody Bellinger and you’re facing Seager, you’re going to need more than just a four-seamer and a changeup. You need something to go away from them and something with some bite and something that goes down. Like the majority of middle of the order left-handers in the big leagues. And he had that tonight. You saw the swings Bellinger took. Not a comfortable at-bat. And that was great to see.”
Hyde on Means thinking he needs to win over coaching staff: “I don’t think he has anything to win. I don’t know what he means by that, to be honest with you. He’s been our best starter all year and he’s given us a chance to win in the majority of the games that he’s pitched. I think he’s always disappointed. He’s had a couple of these outings where he’s kind of cruised through five, gotten into the sixth and given up a homer had a tough break go not his way. So maybe he means something by that, no pun intended. But no, John Means for me is a competitor.
“I think he’s improving. We’ve talked about the slider’s gotten better. He just learns how to bury that really plus-changeup a little bit more at times and not leave it up elevated, which happens, then he’s going to take off. But I like his presence, I like the way he holds runners. There’s a lot of things in his game I like.”
Hyde on Villar home run: “That was a huge hit for us. They’re so hard to match up against. That’s why you saw us double-barreling from the seventh inning on, seventh and eighth innings.The home runs are up everywhere and it’s tough to keep the ball in the ballpark. It’s tough to keep the ball in this ballpark on a humid night when the ball was traveling. I’ve seen enough home runs here from the other side, so it’s nice to get one from our side.”
Means on why feels has something to prove: “It’s kind of my mentality. I go out there, I’m never satisfied, I always have something that I’m working on. I always have something I want to get better at, and right now it’s giving up a homer every game. It always seems to be one mistake and if I can just limit that one mistake every game I’d be sitting pretty. But just continue to try to get better and better.”
Means on whether he’s starting to take stock in season: “I don’t think I’m quite there yet. No. I think once I head back home I might start thinking about it a little bit more, but right now I know I have a bullpen in a couple days and I know I have another start coming up.”
Means on what it means to be pitching so well last five games: “With the strong first half that I had, it was my goal to not let it teeter off toward the end and stay strong, stay attacking guys. I know after the break it started to kind of teeter, and to come back and feel like I’m back to my normal self, it feels pretty good.”
Means on whether sliders were part of game plan: “Yeah, especially against those lefties. And actually I was throwing a little different curveball that had a little bit more depth and sweep to it that I actually got some swings and misses on. Like I said, always working on trying to get better and trying to get that full repertoire of pitches that actually get swings and misses and I was really happy with how my curveball was working today.”
Means on whether he added curveball recently or already had: “Today was the first day I’ve threw it in a game and I got a strikeout on Taylor with it. The curveball was never really a swing and miss pitch. It was more of a get me over for a strike and to see some swings and misses on it, I was pretty happy with that.”
Villar on record-breaking homer: “Somebody told me after the homer. That’s unbelievable. That’s impressive for me, not for me, it’s for the team because we hit it here. That’s awesome. They put the bat in the Hall of Fame. I’m excited for that.”
Villar on admiring flight of ball: “When you hit a homer like that, you need to see it because when you run you can’t see it, where the ball went. That one you can see where the ball went.”
Hays on having game like this: “It’s awesome. I’ve been waiting for a moment like this for two years. To come out and play an aggressive style of baseball like I do, it’s a lot of fun getting it done tonight, get some late home runs. It’s a very exciting and fun game just all the way around.”