DETROIT - Four pitches into today’s start, left-hander John Means already had surrendered a leadoff triple and a long home run. He hadn’t worked up a sweat. Hadn’t built up any mound dirt in his spikes.
Means would get on a serious roll after Jordy Mercer’s 424-footer into the left field seats. Back to the form that allowed him to string together four consecutive quality starts and surrender two earned runs or fewer in five.
Would it be too late? Would a team knocking off the two hardest components of a cycle just two batters into a game stick Means with the loss?
That’s how it played out.
Means retired 12 in a row after the homer, but Victor Reyes’ two-run double extended the lead with two outs in the fifth, the Tigers scored again in the next inning and the Orioles settled for a split of the four-game series with a 5-2 loss at Comerica Park.
The Orioles are 49-101 and returning to Camden Yards to play the Blue Jays and Mariners and close out the home portion of their schedule. The Tigers are 45-104.
Rookie left-hander Tyler Alexander, making his sixth start and 11th appearance, shut out the Orioles for 5 2/3 innings before Trey Mancini hit his 33rd home run, the ball traveling 430 feet to left field.
Right-handed hitters were batting .322/.342/.557 against Alexander before today. Mancini must have read the report.
Mancini struck out on three Jiménez pitches to end the game, leaving him slumped in front of his locker and trying to contain his frustration.
“Terrible,” said Mancini, who was 7-for-19 with three homers in Detroit. “I felt pretty good about my series overall, and of course, the one at-bat where I come out of myself and just ... I don’t know how I chased those two pitches there in that situation. I was just trying to do too much, clearly, and definitely not happy about it.”
“Three really good at-bats,” said manager Brandon Hyde, “and then have the right guy up. Jiménez threw some good sliders to him. Didn’t happen but we gave them a run there late.”
“They were aggressive and I thought they had a pretty good game plan against me,” Means said. “I thought I stayed in attack mode and made some pitches, but at the same time, they just did damage when they needed to. It’s frustrating, but I need to go back to the drawing board.”
Hyde replaced Means with Branden Kline after 76 pitches.
“It was 2-0 before you know it and they scored two in the first (four) pitches of the game and then he settled down and put some scoreless innings up after that,” Hyde said. “Pitch count was way down. They were aggressive, he was getting some easy outs. And he just left a two-strike changeup up to drive in a couple runs to make it four.
“I thought he threw the ball well, I thought he looked good. They just kind of ambushed him early and he left a changeup up later.”
“They just hit my mistakes,” Means said. “I thought I made some good pitches, but they took them and they hit the mistakes. That’s just kind of how it works up here. You’re up here in the big leagues. I mean, these are good hitters. They got me pretty well today.”
Not during the stretch of 12 in a row retired.
“I was locating my fastball a lot better,” he said. “I think my fastball was my biggest downfall today. I was leaving it over the plate instead of hitting the corner like I usually do with it. My fastball up wasn’t working as well. They were able to get on top of it. I think my fastball was my biggest setback today.”
Dawel Lugo broke Means’ streak with a leadoff single in the fifth and Travis Demeritte reached on an infield hit. Jake Rogers popped up a bunt, Willi Castro struck out and Reyes found the left-center field gap. He was caught in a 7-6-3-5-9-3-4 rundown for the final out.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on the only two walks issued by Means and a single, and Lugo’s sacrifice fly increased the lead to 5-1.
The first inning consisted of only nine pitches, with five needed to get the three outs. Means threw 11 in the third and 10 in the fourth.
“John’s got some great stuff,” Mancini said. “I think they had a good approach against him today. I think they kind of committed to either his fastball and changeup, and they put some good at-bats together, but he always battles, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, like today. He always competes and gives us a good start and keeps us in the game.”
Alexander retired the first eight batters before Richie Martin reached out for a pitch and poked it into right field for a soft single. Mancini led off the third with a double and made it to third base, but a strikeout and fly ball kept him there.
Hays’ line drive found Lugo’s glove to open the fifth and the Orioles were retired in order.
“I just thought (Alexander) threw the ball great,” Hyde said. “One inning, we squared up three balls right at guys. Sevie (Pedro Severino) with a deep fly ball that is out of most parks. I thought he threw the ball really well. Give him a lot of credit.
“I thought we made it kind of easy on him, too, with some early in the count outs. But we had a chance late in the game.”
“His fastball plays up,” Mancini said. “I was impressed with his stuff. He’s got a good cutter there, too. I thought he located his pitches really well and did a good job of keeping us off-balance and threw a lot of fastballs. Like I said, it says 90, 91 on the board, but it definitely seems harder up at the plate.”
Alberto drew a leadoff walk against Buck Farmer in the eighth, Renato Núñez was hit by a pitch and both runners were stranded. The inning included Anthony Santander flying out to end a 12-pitch at-bat and Villar striking out against David McKay.
Núñez appeared to tweak the back of his right leg while swinging through a pitch and was nailed on the left hand, which led him to glare at Farmer before assistant athletic trainer Patrick Wesley checked on him for a second time.
“X-rays are negative,” Hyde said. “I’m not sure what he did to his leg, but ball off the hand, X-rays came out OK.”
Ryan Eades’ first pitch in the bottom of the eighth nailed Jeimer Candelario, who was slow to take his base. Both benches were warned.
It didn’t escalate from there, with Eades striking out the next two batters. A much easier task than working the 12th inning with the bases loaded, as he did Saturday while walking in the tying run and surrendering John Hicks’ walk-off grand slam.
The Orioles have alternated losses and wins in their last seven games.