Orioles manager Brandon Hyde didn’t need to state the obvious with left-hander John Means. Didn’t need to remind the ace to control his emotions in his first start after tossing a no-hitter in Seattle.
The pregame tasks didn’t include delivering special messages to Means.
There would be some concessions after Means threw a career-high 113 pitches, the implementation of an extra day’s rest already done. Hyde would monitor him closely and not push him.
Hyde admitted that there was an element of curiosity about what would happen with Means tonight at Citi Field, but he didn’t consider opening a dialogue about it.
“Just hand him the ball,” Hyde said.
Here’s what Means did with it: He shut out the Mets on six hits in six innings, with no walks and six strikeouts in a 3-2 loss.
César Valdez failed in his attempt at his ninth save after Kevin Pillar’s leadoff home run was ruled a foul ball upon review. Pillar and Jonathan Villar singled and Dominic Smith’s one-out single on a fly ball to right field tied the game. Patrick Mazeika came to the plate with Villar at third base after Ramón Urías’ throwing error and grounded to Trey Mancini, whose throw home was late.
“He’s been consistent all year, he’s been one of the best closers in baseball in my opinion,” Means said. “He just left a couple pitches up and that happens. We’re all not perfect. It’s going to happen and it’s just part of the game.”
Back-to-back singles by Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco to open the seventh in a scoreless game were followed by Rio Ruiz’s sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk to Pedro Severino and Means removing his batting helmet in the dugout. DJ Stewart was announced as the pinch-hitter, left-hander Aaron Loup replaced Marcus Stroman, Pat Valaika replaced Stewart and a sacrifice fly gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
“I think my pitch count was probably limited today anyway, just because of the nine innings last start, so I figured that was probably going to be the move,” Means said. “Bases loaded, we needed that run right there, it was a close ballgame. I completely understand it. Obviously, the competitor in me wants to go back out there, but logistically it just didn’t make sense.”
Austin Hays led off the eighth with a triple that also cost the Mets center fielder Albert Almora Jr., who ran head-first into the fence, lost the ball and laid face-down on the warning track. Trevor May struck out the next two batters, but Galvis reached on a bunt single for a 2-0 lead.
Exit velocity of 34 mph on that bunt. It isn’t always how hard you hit them.
“That was just a baseball play, runner at third, two outs there, drops down a perfect drag bunt to give us a 2-0 cushion at that point,” Hyde said.
“That’s all Freddy Galvis. He’s got really good baseball instincts, he’s got great awareness, he understands the game extremely well. Saw that Villar was back a little bit and just made a great bunt.”
The Orioles are 16-20 overall and 11-7 on the road with one more to play in the series before returning home.
A repeat no-hitter and partnership with Johnny Vander Meer in the exclusive back-to-back club vanished just one batter into the game. Leadoff hitter Jeff McNeil reached for a 1-2 fastball and lofted it over shortstop for a single.
“I wasn’t thinking about it too much, to be honest with you,” Means said. “I was just trying to get another good outing out of the way and move on. I wasn’t hanging on it. But after the first one you almost take a sigh of relief that you can just go back to not thinking about it anymore and just pitching.”
McNeil struck again with two outs in the third inning, lining a single into right-center field and pulling up as he tried for the double, with Cedric Mullins throwing him out. McNeil went in standing, accepted the tag, bent forward and left the game with body cramps while Means’ pitch count stood at 29 pitches.
Pete Alonso broke his bat with two outs in the fourth while pushing a single into center field. Pillar also singled into center field, another soft hit, but Means retired Villar on a popup.
With umpire Tim Timmons working the plate again, as he did in Seattle for the no-hitter, Means struck out two batters in the fifth and kept alive his shutout bid at only 59 pitches. Forty-one were strikes.
McNeil’s replacement, José Peraza, led off the sixth with a single and moved to second base on Francisco Lindor’s single. Michael Conforto grounded into a force, Alonso fouled out and Pillar flied out on Means’ 74th and final pitch.
“I felt OK,” Means said. “I thought my fastball command wasn’t great. I like what my changeup was doing, but that was kind of it. I made pitches when I needed to, especially inside, but the fastball command, just left a couple over and they got hit pretty hard. But other than that, I felt pretty good.”
“He pitched really well,” Hyde said. “Six great innings. We kind of had a six-and-85 (pitches) kind of max tonight. That was kind of the number we were talking about, but he was cruising, so there was a chance he was going to go out there for the seventh, but with the opportunity to score - we’ve been struggling to score runs a little bit, 0-0 game - pinch-hit for him there. But I was really impressed with how he came back after a big day five or six days ago and then to repeat that. He pitched extremely well today on the road in New York. A really good start by John.
“Those are the fun decisions that you make in the National League.”
The Orioles put runners on the corners against Stroman with no outs in the first inning on Mullins’ single and Villar’s fielding error. Mullins ran on contact as Mancini bounced to the mound and was caught in a rundown.
Means was 1-for-1 with a walk as a hitter, the 1.000 average a source of pride and amusing bragging rights among teammates. So what if he reached on an infield single to short in Arizona in 2019? It doesn’t require an asterisk.
Hyde was reminded today about Means’ eagerness to bat.
“I’m really hoping he’s looking forward to bunting,” Hyde replied. The manager wanted traffic on the bases and instructions to sacrifice - and to keep Means injury-free on the trip.
“I hope we’ve got a runner at first and he can just bunt him over,” Hyde said this afternoon, “and then he jogs to first base about 40 percent.”
Severino followed last night’s three-hit performance with a two-out single in the second inning, which brought Means to the plate and the freedom to swing away. He struck out, but began to jog to first base with the pitch in the dirt.
The Orioles didn’t have another hit until Galvis singled in the seventh. Franco interrupted a 3-for-43 slump with his single.
A one-out walk to Severino in the fifth presented a bunt opportunity for Means, who got the ball down but hit into a force at second. Means beat the relay to first, running much harder than 40 percent.
Means went 0-for-2, but he also lowered his ERA to 1.21 and has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts.
Plutko was bailed out by a sloppy double play in the seventh after a leadoff walk, with Ruiz deftly handling a poor feed from Galvis. Plutko issued another leadoff walk in the eighth, struck out Peraza and watched Scott walk his own batter to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Conforto singled to reduce the lead to 2-1, but Alonso grounded into a double play.
Down on the farm, left-hander DL Hall tossed five scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie. He allowed two hits, walked none and struck out nine.
Hall has made two starts with the Baysox and allowed no runs and four hits with two walks and 19 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.
Single-A Aberdeen’s Garrett Stallings, acquired from the Angels in the José Iglesias trade, tossed five hitless innings with one walk and four strikeouts.