CLEVELAND - It was the last of the fifth and a crowd of 25,652 was getting loud at Progressive Field. Leading 3-1, the Cleveland Indians had the bases loaded and one out against Orioles lefty John Means. They had a chance to put the hammer down and break the game wide open.
Means had a 3-2 count on right fielder Jordan Luplow, who hit a two-run homer off him an inning earlier. This time Luplow grounded a fastball to the left of third baseman Rio Ruiz. He gloved it and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, thanks in large part to a great scoop by first baseman Chris Davis on the relay from Jonathan Villar that bounced.
It was not a thing of beauty but it was a key play as Means made a huge pitch to keep his team in the game. The Orioles got just one hit and lost Saturday but it was noted in the dugout as Means got out of that jam and his fielders turned two.
“He came through it with a guy that had already taken him deep in a tough at-bat, a 3-2 count, to get him to roll over on a ground ball,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “A nice flip by Rio and a great turn by Jonny and an unbelievable pick by CD. And that’s winning baseball. We didn’t come back to win that game, and we didn’t score enough, obviously, but that’s a winning baseball play and good teams make those plays in those spots.”
Dylan Bundy pitched out a few jams the night before, and O’s pitchers are going to have to learn how to navigate through traffic on the bases. There are critical at-bats in each game and had the O’s offense gotten a little done yesterday, maybe that play would have really mattered.
Trey Mancini, who hit his 10th homer in the fourth inning, said that play and his pitcher got his attention.
“Talk about a competitor,” said Mancini. “John does such a good job every time. He cares so much. And he’s been pitching great. He’s a rookie this year but it doesn’t seem like it. Everybody loves playing behind him and he works at a good pace. He goes after guys. Yeah, to have bases loaded, one out and get a double play ball to keep us in the game was huge. He came in I think a little frustrated with himself overall. But he needs to know he did a helluva job there keeping us in the game.”
Means fell to 5-4 with an ERA of 2.68 and was agitated that he walked a season-high three batters. He had walked 10 in 38 2/3 innings on the year for a walk-rate of 2.3 per nine innings.
“Yeah. I (was) just frustrated about, I was nibbling. They weren’t swinging at bad pitches, which kudos to them. I just feel like the three walks, I’m not a guy that walks a lot of guys. To have those was really frustrating,” Means said.
This old school rule still applies: The Orioles have a player with inexperience in center field getting a lot of starts there now in Stevie Wilkerson. Hyde clearly has been impressed with Wilkerson’s play and efforts out there so far. But a few times this season we’ve seen some miscommunication in the O’s outfield.
I asked Hyde if that old adage, that the center fielder should take everything he can get to, still applies in this day and age of analytics and advanced data?
“I still believe in that rule, unless the corner outfield guy is camped (under the ball). Or unless the shortstop or second baseman are camped underneath it where you are having to make a running play while someone is camped underneath the ball.
“We still have a long way to go communication-wise in the outfield and that is pretty evident. Stuff we have talked about and are working on. We just don’t have a whole lot of experience out there. You play in loud stadiums and you need to not just communicate verbally but with arms and other things. We are learning all those things and I think we’ll get better,” said Hyde.
Practicing outfield communication is not as easy as say, working on turning the double play.
“Well, it’s just never as loud as during the game,” said Hyde. “Think it’s just more game experience and being aware and how I will call this guy off. So, when playing in louder stadiums, you just understand how to do that. In spring training you blast the music and we’ve done that before with blasting music for our priority drills and you make guys yell over each over. But Stevie was not in centerfield in spring training. So, we’re learning on the fly.”
A few final notes: The Orioles were last held to one hit with that hit being a solo homer on Aug. 24, 2014 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field and Steve Pearce hit the longball. This was the first time Cleveland allowed just one hit and that being a homer since Corey Kluber threw a one-hitter allowing a solo shot to Joe Mauer on Aug. 14, 2015 versus Minnesota.
The Indians are 18-3 when scoring four runs or more. The Orioles are 4-24 when scoring four or less. They are 2-21 when they score three runs or fewer.
The fewest hits in a game by the Orioles before yesterday this season was three hits on April 17 at Tampa Bay. This was the first time the O’s had just one hit since last Sept. 12 against Oakland.
The Indians bullpen threw three scoreless and has a ‘pen ERA of 2.91 for the year. Cleveland began play Saturday with the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors after finishing 25th in 2018.
Wilkerson went 0-for-3 after going 4-for-8 in the first two games of this series, with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs.