Means tries to keep streak alive today in opener

Johns Means has faced the Mariners once in his career and held them to one run over seven innings. Pretty much the standard output against him these days.

The left-hander and staff ace is the first Orioles pitcher to allow one run or fewer in six consecutive starts since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in 1978. He’s assigned the opener of today’s doubleheader, with Dean Kremer going in the nightcap.

Palmer owns the franchise record with eight in a row. He also possesses three Cy Young Awards, but placed third in ‘78 behind the Yankees’ Ron Guidry and Brewers’ Mike Caldwell.

Baseball has changed over the years.

Palmer won 21 games and registered a 2.46 ERA, 1.159 WHIP, 19 complete games and six shutouts in 38 starts covering 296 innings. And he finished third in voting.

I’m sure he appreciated the third of his four consecutive Gold Gloves.

I’m sure Means would look at Palmer’s streak in awe. How could it be consumed in a casual manner?

Thumbnail image for Means-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgMeans knows the challenges of holding down opposing hitters in six straight games, especially pitching in the American League East. He’s totaled 35 1/3 innings during his streak, including an opening day gem in Boston when he limited the Red Sox to one hit over seven frames.

Palmer tossed a two-hit shutout against the Brewers in the 1978 opener at Memorial Stadium and followed by allowing one run in eight innings against the Royals in Baltimore. But that wasn’t where his streak began, because the Yankees torched him for, get this, two earned runs in nine innings in his next outing and caused his ERA to balloon to 1.04.

The roots of his streak actually were planted on May 20 in Cleveland with one unearned run surrendered over 7 1/3 innings. He tossed a six-hit shutout against the Tigers, an eight-hit shutout against the Indians and a two-hit shutout in New York.

Palmer allowed one run in seven innings in Anaheim, tossed a three-hit shutout in Oakland, allowed one earned run in nine innings against the Angels and one in eight innings versus the Athletics.

The Red Sox scored five runs with 10 hits in eight innings on June 23 to raise Palmer’s ERA from 1.81 to 2.05.

His eight-game stretch of dominance, including four shutouts, covered 67 1/3 innings.

Palmer had a couple of mini-slumps with five and six runs allowed in back-to-back starts in May and June. Otherwise, he registered 22 starts with two runs or fewer to match his uniform number.

Averaging 4.2 strikeouts per nine innings meant being able to trust your defense. Brooks Robinson retired the previous year, but the infield on most nights featured Doug DeCinces, Mark Belanger, Rich Dauer and Eddie Murray. Rick Dempsey was behind the plate.

(Mike Anderson appeared in 53 games in the outfield and I have zero recollection of this guy. And I followed these teams closely over the years.)

Palmer’s streak began after the six runs surrendered over 5 2/3 innings in Minnesota. One of the most incredible periods of dominance in baseball history, and it’s nice that Means inadvertently has shined a light on it.

Means and Bruce Zimmermann (twice) are the only starters this season to complete six innings. The Orioles are carrying 14 pitchers to ease the strain on their rotation with the increase to 162 games, and they get a 27th man for the doubleheader.

“We have starters that are still getting built up,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I would love to see our starters go a little (longer). John Means went seven the first night. That was huge. But we should be able to cover innings. That shouldn’t be an issue right now.

“I think as we get later in the summer and we see how guys are physically, see some of these starters we might want to hold back a little bit, a lot of variables are going to happen throughout the season. But right now it’s pretty much how I thought it was going to be.”

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