No matter the result tonight, the Orioles obviously knew that they had the right pitcher on the mound to start the game
John Means is celebrated as if deserving of his own day. His achievements and rankings among major league and American League leaders could fill an entire page of the team’s game notes.
The Orioles, losers of six in a row and 13 of 15 going into Minnesota, needed Means only to be himself and then hope that the offense could unearth a few runs of support. That the bullpen, with minimal usage, could hold onto the lead.
Here’s how it played out:
Means rationed the Twins to two runs and five hits, including a fly ball that fell in center field, over seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter. He’s surrendered three earned runs or fewer in 13 of his last 14 outings.
He was good enough to win, as usual.
A typical outing with an unusual sequence in the eighth inning that almost gave him the victory. DJ Stewart hit a two-run homer with two outs after a 45-minute rain delay, but Tanner Scott put runners on the corners in the bottom half, Josh Donaldson lifted a sacrifice fly off César Valdez that tied the game, Alex Kirilloff singled, Mitch Garver lined a two-run double to right and the Twins kept rolling in an 8-3 win at Target Field.
The losing streak has reached seven games, and 14 defeats in 16 games have lowered the Orioles’ record to 17-30.
Miguel Sanó added a run-scoring single off Valdez, with catcher Chance Sisco unable to play the bounce on the throw home. Three straight hits off Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells increased the lead to 8-3, as the Twins sent 12 batters to the plate.
More than the weather turned ugly.
“It was pretty tough, but that’s baseball sometimes and that’s why we play 162. So come back tomorrow and try to get a win,” Means said via Zoom.
“Obviously, after a loss like that, it’s pretty quiet, but we approach every day with a lot of energy. We come to the field ready to win, ready to compete. I still think this team is in a good place and has energy coming to the field. It’s just can’t get that one win to get us going.”
Trey Mancini led off the eighth with a single off reliever Jorge Alcala, who retired the next two batters and headed for cover with rain falling and the tarp unrolled. Stewart undressed the second pitch of his at-bat, a 98.4 mph fastball that traveled 411 feet to right field.
Stewart has three home runs this season in 34 games, the most recent May 1 in Oakland.
Scott issued a leadoff walk, his 17th free pass in 18 1/3 innings, and the inning unraveled for the Orioles.
“It’s really disappointing,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Big homer by DJ to give us a lead. We’re just really struggling out of the ‘pen. We have one guy throwing the ball well right now, Paul Fry, who’s down today. We need some dudes to step it up in the ‘pen and get some outs for us.
“We threw the ball really good out of the bullpen the first month of the year. We’ve just had a really tough May and really Paul Fry’s been the one who’s been consistent and unfortunately he was down today just because of a two-inning stint yesterday. Hopefully, these guys can turn it around and get some outs like they were the first month of the year. But right now, it’s very, very challenging.”
Anyone can take a lead in the first. The most important part is holding the lead.
The Orioles lost it in the third when Trevor Larnach led off with a home run over the batter’s eye in center field. A 92.6 mph fastball traveling 461 feet with an exit velocity of 112.2 mph, per Statcast data, and landing in the second deck.
Larnach was Adley Rutschman’s teammate at Oregon State. He’s homered twice in 15 games.
Kyle Garlick homered with two outs in the sixth inning on a hanging changeup to give the Twins a 2-1 lead. The Orioles were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Matt Shoemaker. The game shouldn’t have been tied.
“I felt OK,” Means said. “Wasn’t getting ahead quite as much as I would hope. Thought the fastball command was pretty average for what I expect from myself. I thought the changeup was pretty good today. The one was just hung, but other than that, I felt pretty good.”
Luke Farrell replaced Shoemaker in the seventh. Shoemaker has a career 2.13 ERA in six starts against the Orioles.
Mullins singled with two outs in the seventh and Freddy Galvis doubled off the right field fence. Nick Gordon handled the relay and Mullins was out at the plate.
Means led the league with a 1.70 ERA before tonight. He ranked first with a 0.75 WHIP and .163 opponent batting average. His 3.0 WAR was the highest among any pitcher in the majors, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s calculation.
His 90 in-zone swing and misses led the majors. His 86.4 mph average exit velocity was the seventh-lowest.
Means and the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole are the only pitchers in the majors to register four scoreless starts lasting six or more innings.
The Orioles allowed 54 runs in their past six games and 80 in the last 10.
They had the right guy on the mound tonight through seven innings.
“Two solo homers in seven innings? He was awesome,” Hyde said. “You win those games when he pitches like that and we didn’t.”
Means had a bruise on his back after absorbing a 104 mph line drive from Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot in his last start, but didn’t experience any soreness. The ball got him in the “meat,” as Hyde termed it earlier today.
The Twins lineup didn’t include Nelson Cruz, who’s been day-to-day with a sore left wrist and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, and Jorge Polanco, who’s nursing a sore right ankle. Byron Buxton is on the injured list with a strained right hip.
They’re hurting worse than Means.
Austin Hays began the game on the bench after leading off yesterday and collecting two hits. Hays has some tightness in his left hamstring, according to Hyde - not the same leg that he injured in Boston in the opening series.
Hays experienced a teaching moment in the dugout yesterday after laying down a bunt in the ninth inning following Stevie Wilkerson’s leadoff single with the Orioles trailing by one run. Hyde and major league coach Fredi González spoke to Hays.
“I followed up since then. I talked to him a little bit, Fredi talked to him,” Hyde said this afternoon. “We just want him to understand we want him to swing the bat in that situation. Let me dictate when you’re going to bunt, when you’re not going to bunt. In that kind of situation, runner on first base, not really into sac bunting with a hitter in that spot. I don’t want to give an out away there and I want Austin to swing the bat. He understand that and hopefully won’t see that going forward.”
Mullins returned to the leadoff spot tonight and reached base three times. He walked again in the third inning and Galvis singled with one out, but they were stranded. Santander grounded out on a 3-0 pitch.
Wilkerson singled and stole a base with no outs in the fifth, making him 5-for-13 since the Orioles selected his contract, but the next three batters were retired. Mancini sent a grounder up the middle that, in the shift, resulted in the final out.
Santander led off the sixth with another double, his eighth hit in four games since leaving the injured list, but again, the next three batters failed to deliver.
Stewart came through in the clutch. The bullpen couldn’t do the same.