Means finishes strong in Orioles’ 5-2 loss (updated)

The penultimate game of the 2020 season found John Means on the mound again for the Orioles and Randal Grichuk out of the Blue Jays’ lineup.

Means hasn’t caught a lot of breaks this summer. Give him that one.

Then again, maybe he didn’t need it the way he’s been pitching down the stretch.

Thumbnail image for Means-Throws-Orange-BOS-Sidebar.jpgComing off a 12-strikeout gem last weekend in Baltimore, Means kept the Blue Jays hitless tonight until Cavan Biggio homered with two outs in the sixth. Grichuk entered the game in the top half of the inning, hit a three-run homer off Hunter Harvey in the seventh, and the Orioles lost again 5-2 at Sahlen Field in Buffalo.

Seven of Grichuk’s 12 home runs this season came against the Orioles. He’s totaled 19 home runs and 44 RBIs in 39 career games. Sitting him until his placement in center field was doing the Orioles a favor, though certainly without the intent.

José Iglesias broke up the Blue Jays’ combined shutout bid with his second double of the night, this one scoring Austin Hays in the eighth inning. Hays had three more September hits.

Ryan Mountcastle followed with a run-scoring single off Ross Stripling but was thrown out at second base. Tanner Scott was charged with a run in the bottom half after Pedro Severino dropped his throw while attempting to tag Biggio.

Means struck out the side in the fifth, raising his total to eight. He struck out Joe Panik leading off the sixth and Jonathan Davis flied out, giving Means 16 batters retired in a row, but Biggio pulled a hanging slider over the right field fence.

The scoreless tie dissolved on Means’ 96th pitch. It would have been a stretch to keep him in the game if the no-hitter remained intact. Biggio removed that decision.

The only baserunner against Means prior to the home run was Jonathan Villar on a walk in the first. Villar stole second base and was stranded.

Means allowed one run and one hit with one walk and nine strikeouts in six innings. He threw 99 pitches, 66 for strikes.

What he couldn’t do was steer the Orioles away from their 35th loss in 59 games.

In his last four starts, Means surrendered four runs and 12 hits with three walks and 30 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. His ERA tumbled from 8.10 to 4.53.

Though eager to return home to his family, he’s got to be wishing for a little more length to his season.

The Blue Jays switched starters this morning and left manager Brandon Hyde hanging in regards to the replacement. T.J. Zeuch followed two relief appearances this month with tonight’s assignment and tossed five scoreless innings with no walks or strikeouts.

Rio Ruiz doubled with two outs in the fourth inning, the ball hitting the top of the fence and bouncing back onto the field, but Hanser Alberto lined out. Similar to Iglesias’ double with one out in the first. A runner in scoring position who doesn’t budge.

Back-to-back singles by Cedric Mullins and Hays with one out in the third also were wasted. Iglesias was ruled safe on a ground ball to the left side, but the call was overturned.

Hays reached on an infield hit with two outs in the fifth and also was stranded.

Harvey retired only one batter in the seventh before Cole Sulser replaced him. He hit Teoscar Hernández leading off the inning, Ramón Urías committed an error and Grichuk did his usual number on the Orioles.

Two runs were earned and Harvey’s ERA is 4.50.

The season is down to its final game. The Orioles have been in survival mode, right down to the protocols that kept them safe at Camden Yards.

They lost Trey Mancini to the frightening news of his colon cancer diagnosis and endured COVID-related postponements attached to their opponents, games shuffled and other disruptions and distractions. They initiated a postponement at Tropicana Field to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

Hyde stood by them, never wavering in his support. And he didn’t buckle under the stress as the world kept throwing curveballs.

“This year, it’s been a wild one, there’s been a lot of things thrown my way and I feel like I’ve handled things the best I possibly could,” Hyde said in his Zoom conference call. “There’s been a lot of non-baseball stuff that’s come into my office and in our clubhouse and coaching staff’s been a huge help for me and the conversations that I’ve had with our players, with our coaches, front office, etc. It’s been an educational year for sure.

“This is one of those years that you can never prepare for and there’s no course to take on how to deal with the things that we’ve done on a daily basis, but I am proud of how we have handled everything and I think our players are better for it. So I think it’s been a successful year in a lot of ways.”

Hyde on whether he had Means on pitch count: “Yeah, I did. He was getting so many foul balls and deep counts, it was making it really, really challenging. Really happy with how he threw these last three starts. Proud of him for coming back after dealing with what he’s dealt with this year and struggling a little bit early on the mound and really finishing the year strong. Really, three dominant starts. Tonight ... it was just more of the same from his last two starts. An incredible way to end the year and looking forward to having a full year next year.”

Hyde on what he wants Means to do in offseason: “He’s right on course. Don’t know if you can pitch much better than he did his last three starts. I just love that he’s attacking hitters with his fastball, his changeup is back, I like both breaking balls, you can’t sit on a pitch. He’s pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy. And I think he learned a lot this year, and he learned he tried to overthrow and get the ball by guys, but he’s still got to pitch and we have some other guys who need to learn that, as well. And I think it’s a huge step forward what he’s dealt with and how he’s finished the year going into next year.”

Means on wishing he had a few more starts: “Yeah, I wish there were 100 games left. Just felt like me. It’s been a nice breath of fresh air the last few starts.”

Means on evaluating season: “I’m going to take this momentum into the offseason. Try to trap this mentality that I’m in and work on that, work on cleaning some stuff up. I like where I’m at now and I don’t really want to look back.”

Means on the season: “I think it was one big learning experience. I experienced a lot of things this season that are pretty tough, and to get through that and try to find myself again was a struggle. I thank the coaches for that. They work hard, too. I think it’s going to help me a lot coming into this next season and the season after that. I was horrible for so long, and to come out of that and have some success is huge.”

Hays on Means: “It’s been unbelievable. It seems like every single hitter who steps in the box is 0-1. He’s getting a ton of swings and misses. When he does throw pitches out of the zone, it seems like he gets a ton of chases. This is as dominant as I’ve ever seen any pitcher these last two starts and it’s been fun to watch. I’m happy for him.”

Hays on confidence going into 2021: “It seems like it’s the same old story again. I just wanted to come back and prove that my body was healthy and I’m still here and I still have the ability to play in the big leagues. I want to carry that momentum and go through a healthy offseason and come into spring training next year ready to go.”

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