There’s nothing wrong with the mound at Camden Yards, the home clubhouse or the ballpark atmosphere. The routine at home isn’t disruptive. John Means just happens to pitch better on the road this month, for reasons that can’t be explained beyond the ridiculously small sample size.
In Means’ lone outing in Baltimore, he faced the Mariners in the first game of a doubleheader and allowed three runs in five innings with two home runs attached to his line.
In starts made on three trips, he’s surrendered only one run and struck out 18 batters in 18 2/3 innings.
Means’ first experience today at the new ballpark in Arlington, Texas was extremely positive beyond the complete lack of support. He shut out the Rangers on three hits and struck out nine batters in seven innings.
Neither team could break through until the 10th, when the Rangers loaded the bases against Travis Lakins Sr. with two outs and Nate Lowe punched a walk-off single into left field for a 1-0 win over the Orioles that prevented a sweep.
Maikel Franco stood on second base to begin the top of the 10th and advanced after left fielder Willie Calhoun made a diving catch in retreat to rob Ryan Mountcastle. A heads-up play. But he didn’t break on pinch-hitter Trey Mancini’s line drive single into right field off John King, making sure the ball wasn’t caught, and Adolis García threw him out at the plate.
Franco was shaken up in the collision with catcher Jose Trevino, his left shoulder absorbing the impact. Manager Brandon Hyde argued that Trevino blocked the plate.
“I saw a really nice defensive play by the right fielder,” Hyde said. “It’s a really, really tough read. Ball’s up in the air, you’re thinking tag. He lays out and catches that ball, you’ve got to be able to tag and score. So, from our vantage point, which was pretty much the same as Franco’s, he didn’t know if it was going to hang up for him or not, so he went back to tag and the guy just made a heck of a throw.
“They played great defense, obviously, in that top of the 10th, the catch in left-center and then the play in right field, so tip your hat to them for the defensive plays they made in the top half of that inning.”
Lakins fielded Eli White’s bunt in the bottom of the 10th and threw to Franco, who applied a high tag on Charlie Culberson. White took second base on a wild pitch, Calhoun walked, Isiah Kiner-Falefa struck out after getting ahead 3-1, Lakins threw another wild pitch, Nick Solak walked and Lowe sent everyone to the exits.
Gibson held the Orioles to four hits with no walks in eight innings. They didn’t get the leadoff man on base against him.
Urías had two of the five hits on a day when the infield was bathed in shadows.
“Definitely very tough to hit with the shadows,” he said. “All my teammates were talking about it in the dugout, how difficult it was. I had a good day, but unfortunately overall in general, we were not able to be the offensive team that we can be.”
Means has registered a 1.52 ERA, returning him to club ace status, and a 0.48 on the road. He won’t pitch in Miami later this week, with his next turn coming Saturday night against the Athletics at Camden Yards.
Trouble didn’t arrive until the fifth, when Trevino reached for a high fastball and doubled to left, moved up on a ground ball and held his ground on a nine-pitch walk to White. Leody Taveras chased a changeup for the second out - and Means’ seventh strikeout - and Kiner-Falefa lined the next pitch to Mullins.
“I knew I just needed to make my pitches, just stay relaxed, and if I execute I was fine,” Means said. “Just because the way the changeup was working today. All I needed to do was just kind of run it off the edge of the plate, and that’s what I did. Got a big strikeout and got a big third out, too.”
An infield hit and walk in the sixth didn’t disrupt Means’ shutout bid. Chance Sisco threw out Solak trying to steal.
Means retired the side in order in the seventh inning and registered his eighth and ninth strikeouts. He was done after 96 pitches.
“I just thought he was in total command,” Hyde said. “I thought he had a great fastball that he was locating, thought he threw some really good curveballs, the changeup was there. Seven shutout innings, nine punchouts, pretty much says it all right there. Two really good starters that were on today. Pretty good baseball game. Two really good pitching performances by both sides.”
Means struck out three batters in the first inning on a changeup, curveball and changeup. Solak singled and was stranded.
While retiring the side in order in the second, Means struck out David Dahl and Culberson on 93.7 and 93.3 mph fastballs, respectively. He went three up, three down in the third, with Kiner-Falefa watching a 93.6 mph fastball, 93 mph fastball and changeup in the zone.
Six strikeouts in three innings seemed to indicate that Means brought his good stuff to Arlington. As he did on opening day in Boston with one hit allowed and no walks in seven scoreless innings.
Solak reached on Franco’s fielding error leading off the fourth, but Means retired the next three batters. No strikeouts, though. Must have been tiring.
Not really. He was in command.
It wavered in the sixth, but Means escaped the jam and returned for the seventh at 82 pitches.
“I thought I was stronger toward the end in Boston,” Means said. “I started to kind of lose a little bit of command toward the end. Had a couple walks there the last three innings and just got my pitch count up. So, if I would have kept attacking, I think I could have gone a little longer. But both were pretty good outings.
“The changeup was definitely the lifesaver today. I thought I was getting my curveball over for strikes and the heater was playing well up in the zone and getting some swings and misses on that. But really, just kind of the whole mix was playing today.”
Rangers closer Ian Kennedy struck out the side in the ninth.