More Means following yesterday’s no-hitter

A soft liner leaves the opponent’s bat, the shortstop catches it and players sprint onto the field to begin a raucous celebration. Teammates surround the starting pitcher. Grown men jump up and down as if reliving their childhood.

But enough about the 1983 World Series ...

Ramón Urías played the role of Cal Ripken Jr. yesterday in Seattle and John Means was Scott McGregor. Except the Orioles didn’t win a championship. They just reacted as if a trophy would be hoisted later and champagne corks would pop.

Means threw the sixth no-hitter since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954 and the first in major league history with the only runner reaching base via a strikeout and wild pitch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

According to MLB Stats, Means is the first American League pitcher with 12 or more strikeouts and no walks in a no-hitter since former Orioles spring training invite Félix Hernández in 2012. And his game score of 99 was the highest by an Orioles pitcher in a nine-inning game, per MLB.com.

Means had never gone more than seven innings, had never thrown 113 pitches, until yesterday’s gem. His story gets a little crazier every fifth day.

From borderline pitching prospect to major league ace. From contemplating retirement to earning consideration for major awards.

Definitely an ace, right?

“You don’t want to label somebody, honestly, like I don’t want to raise expectations of who he is, but he is definitely pitching like one. There’s no doubt about that,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday in his Zoom call.

“He has pitched like one from September last year through this year. For me, aces not only give you a chance to win the game, but they go long, they can battle throughout a game and they give bullpens a rest and they make big pitches in big spots late in a game and you have a longer leash because of that. And John Means is at that point for me. A guy that can really allow his bullpen to breathe, you trust him in any situation, he pounds the strike zone and he gives your team a chance to win every single time out.”

The zone took a two-fisted beating yesterday, with Means throwing first-pitch strikes to 26 of 27 batters. That’s insane.

He came within that dropped third strike of a perfect game, which left Pedro Severino feeling guilty, Means indifferent and Hyde not interested in thinking about it.

“I don’t want to take away from anything. I just want to enjoy this special day,” he said.

“It was early in the game with a lot of game left, and then (Severino) makes an A-plus throw on a stolen base attempt and puts it right on the bag. So I just want to enjoy this, honestly.”

Means-Hugs-After-No-Hitter-Sidebar.jpgMeans was offered the ball as a souvenir, with Urías flipping it to Hyde on the field. Hyde stuffed it in his pocket and showed it to Means, who rejected it because he was soaked from the celebration. Hyde passed it along to a clubhouse attendant, who got the ball authenticated and stashed in a safe place.

Hyde watched Jake Arrieta throw two no-hitters with the Cubs in 2015 and 2016.

“Jake was incredibly dominant for two-plus years and you just felt when you went to the ballpark this was going to be a fun game to watch, a fun game to be a part of, and that’s the feeling you’re getting with John right now,” Hyde said.

“You go to the ballpark, Means is on the mound, it’s going to be a fun night. To me, that’s what you feel like when you have a No. 1 or a top-of-the-rotation guy on the mound is when you get to the ballpark, we’ve got a really good chance to win this ballgame. And Means has been doing that.”

Means has authored two no-hitters in his lifetime, the other at Single-A Delmarva in 2015 - seven innings in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Charleston. Yermín Mercedes was the catcher. It counts.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, the last Orioles pitcher with a complete-game no-hitter in 1969, earned the nickname “Cakes” by eating pancakes before every start. Means isn’t making it easy to find a clever moniker for him..

“I had eggs, bacon and potatoes and I pretty much do eat that every day of my life,” he said. “I used to be so superstitious and I pitch so much better when I’m not, so I’m just going to roll with this and do whatever I want from here on out.”

Eggs, bacon and potatoes.

A pitcher who tends to keep his emotions under wraps had his sunny side up yesterday.

Means never sought the spotlight and didn’t think there was much reason for it to shine on him. He’d rather have the focus and fuss reserved for the team, which is a byproduct of his no-hitter.

“It’s about time,” he said. “I think we have a lot of fun guys to watch, to be honest with you. I think we have some great hitters. (Cedric) Mullins, (Austin) Hays, (Trey) Mancini, there’s a bunch of them. And a great bullpen and great rotation. I think we have a really good team. It’s about time people started paying attention.”

Means can’t avoid it any longer. People are talking. But the Orioles are part of the conversation.

“I think it’s a good thing all around,” he said. “I’ll probably shrug it off as much as I can, but I just love baseball, man. I just love it. I just want to go out there every fifth day and compete. That’s all I care about. As long as I’m playing this game I’m happy.”

I’d like to think that Ray Miller was looking down at Means and smiling. Perhaps with Mike Flanagan, his former pitching coach and part of the combined no-hitter in 1991, sitting next to him and delivering hilarious one-liners.

The news of Miller’s death Tuesday at 76 opened the gates to a flood of memories.

Miller was Orioles pitching coach when I joined the beat in 1997 and my second manager after Davey Johnson.

Let’s just say I had a better relationship with Miller.

We could talk about anything at any time, whether in his office, the dugout or via an offseason phone call. He trusted me, and I was new at developing relationships. During a period in the business when you could peek behind the curtain - in Miller’s case, allowing us to see traces of his dinner on an office wall after another blown save, his hand wrapped after punching his chair, the tall paper cup on his desk containing his favorite cocktail.

He’d tear off the filter on his cigarette before lighting it. Clean the inside of his ear with a paper clip while chatting with reporters. Nothing that you’d recommend.

Miller would sit at his locker on the road, balance a briefcase on his lap and use it as a tray for his postgame meal. An image that’s stuck with me for unknown reasons.

A little rough around the edges, for sure. A top seed in a grizzled field of 64. But that made him more endearing and comfortable to interact with on a daily basis. A regular guy who also happened to be an exceptional pitching coach and huge proponent of “The Oriole Way.”

The losses and criticisms over his managing hurt him, but few pitching coaches commanded the same level of respect as “Rabbit.” And no one was more enjoyable to cover in Baltimore.

A good man.

The Orioles found the perfect way to honor him yesterday.

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