Means strikes out 12 in 2-1 win (updated)

Sammy Stewart was a rookie making his major league debut in 1978 when he struck out seven batters in a row to set an Orioles record.

John Means was in his second full season, though in truncated style, when he tied the record today. Pitching in the final home game in 2020. Back to the form that made him an All-Star last summer.

Means went on to set a career high with 12 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings, allowing only one run in his third consecutive start, and the Orioles defeated the Rays 2-1 at chilly Camden Yards.

The Orioles are 23-31 heading into the off-day and then trips to Boston and Buffalo. They’ve scored two runs or fewer in nine of their last 12 games, but sometimes the starting pitching and bullpen make it work.

They improved to 1-20 when scoring three runs or fewer.

Dillon Tate struck out two batters in the seventh, Joey Wendle singled and Hunter Harvey struck out Manuel Margot to preserve the lead.

Harvey retired the side in order with another strikeout in the eighth and César Valdez notched his second save.

The 12 strikeouts are the most by an Orioles pitcher since Dylan Bundy had 14 on May 24, 2018 in Chicago. Means was removed after 97 pitches with a runner on first base, and Tate stranded two following Pat Valaika’s second error at shortstop.

Means has surrendered three runs and 11 hits in his last three starts over 17 2/3 innings, with two walks and 21 strikeouts, and lowered his ERA from 8.10 to 5.02.

Renato Núñez interrupted his slump with a soft two-run single into center field off Ryan Yarbrough in the first inning after Hanser Alberto reached on the Orioles’ 16th bunt single and Austin Hays singled and advanced to second on the throw.

Núñez was 9-for-51 this month before singling twice off Yarbrough.

Means-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgMeans surpassed his season high with his sixth strikeout. He had faced only eight batters.

Today was going to be special.

He froze Wendle, just as he had done Mike Zunino, for No. 7 in his first run through the order.

Margot crashed the party with a two-out single in the third. Means struck out the first two batters in the fourth, both looking, but Willy Adames homered into the bullpen to cut the lead to 2-1.

Means came right back and blew a 94 mph fastball past Nate Lowe for his 10th strikeout.

The home run came after Means won a 13-pitch battle with Kevan Smith, getting the Rays designated hitter to look at a 78 mph curveball after fouling off eight pitches in a row - seven fastballs and a changeup.

Means’ pitch count had reached 71 when he came back out for the fifth inning. Hunter Renfroe grounded out, Zunino became Means’ 11th strikeout victim, Wendle singled and Margot grounded into a force.

Tsutsugo struck out for a third time after Means hit Randy Arozarena on the leg to open the sixth. Smith popped up and manager Brandon Hyde popped out of the dugout to make the switch.

Of the dozen strikeouts, nine came on his fastball and none on the changeup. There’s always room for one more oddity in 2020.

The team record for most strikeouts in a game is 15 by Mike Mussina (twice) and Eric Bedard.

Stewart finished his debut game, in the nightcap of a Sept. 1, 1978 doubleheader against the White Sox at Memorial Stadium, with nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. Joe Kerrigan worked the last 3 2/3 innings in a 9-3 win.

Means was busy today trying to hold onto a slim lead.

His start began on a strange note. Margot reached Valaika’s throwing error on the first pitch of the day. He broke too soon for second base, Means threw behind him and Margot was caught stealing. Means promptly hit Arozarena with a pitch and began his strikeout streak.

The lack of quick outs and the 13-pitch battle were inching Means closer to the dugout by the sixth. He’s already reached his All-Star form. It just took a while.

Note: The Orioles acquired pitcher Conner Loeprich from the Pirates in exchange for international signing bonus slots. They also released outfielder Mason Williams from the alternate camp site and outrighted pitcher Asher Wojciechowski to Triple-A Norfolk after he cleared waivers.

Leoprich was a 20th-round pick in 2018 out of St. Mary’s. He hasn’t pitched above high Single-A.

Update: Hyde said tests on José Iglesias’ left wrist came back negative. He’s sore and day-to-day, but could play later this week.

Hyde on Means’ start: “That was one of his better performances that I’ve ever seen here in the year-plus. I thought he had four pitches working. I thought he was aggressive in the strike zone. Just that one homer on kind of a backup slider was his only mistake of the day. Just a great job of pitching.”

Hyde on whether anyone talked about strikeout record: “I think we’re noticing that he’s punching a lot of people out. I didn’t have the stats until I came in the office. There’s some ballparks where they post Ks and more pitching stats and in-game stuff and you notice it more. Today, I knew he punched out a lot. I didn’t know how many, though.”

Means on whether fastball command was his best: “It was pretty good. My misses were better. How about that? Sometimes you miss in a hitter’s hot zone and sometimes you miss out of it and that’s kind of what I aim for. You’ve got to know what zones you can get away with and what you can’t.”

Means on almost being done season: “It’s kind of bittersweet feeling. I’m glad I kind of found my way again but I have one start left. I wish there were 100 games left, but that’s just not the case this year. But I’m going to take that into next year, the playoffs, and just try to be me. I think I got away from myself in August and to get back to pitching like myself is a good sign.”

Means on striking out 12: “I didn’t know it was that many. I knew that I was getting some swings and misses. I just had the fastball going today. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. I had my good fastball that was riding pretty well. I didn’t know it was that many, but I had an idea.”

Means on needing this kind of finish: “You never just want to have a whole year that you can’t figure it out. I think being able to come into my own and being able to just calm down a little bit and pitch well is definitely going to help me going into the offseason.”

Means on last home game and no fans: “It just doesn’t feel the same, it doesn’t feel like the last game here. I feel like we’re just going to keep playing and playing and it doesn’t have that feeling. The only feeling is the weather, I guess. It’s a little chillier. It just sucks. The whole year, it is what it is, but it doesn’t feel like a true Major League Baseball season when you don’t have fans cheering you on. We’re playing meaningful baseball here and it’s tough to not get that support, but I know it will come”

Núñez on Means: “It was amazing, man. How he was throwing today, he was something else. I don’t even know how many guys he struck out. Like 12 or 13, something like that? That’s a lot, man.”

Núñez on two-run single over drawn-in infield: “I was thinking the umpire, that he called that I hit the guy on the mask with my swing. So I don’t even know what was going on. I start running and then I see the ball, that it went into center field. But it was great, man. I get to drive those two runs in and it was enough to beat them today.”

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