Suddenly, they are the cardiac Orioles.
They lose a ninth-inning lead against the New York Yankees, but beat them in 10 on Thursday. They travel across the country, almost lose a lead in the last of the ninth at Oakland but beat the first-place A’s for the second time in a row.
One guess as to which pitcher started both games?
It was John Means on the mound when the Orioles beat Oakland 8-1 last Sunday, snapping their 13-game winning streak. It was Means back out again, this time on the West Coast but again pitching a strong game against a top club.
“Yeah, you just can’t overthink it, to be honest,” Means said of facing the A’s back-to-back and allowing three runs over 13 1/3 innings. “You have to stick with the game plan, stick with reading the hitters’ swings and stick with your gut. I think some guys start to overthink it when they face a lineup fourth, fifth and sixth time in a week. But yeah, I just kind of stick with the same game plan. I liked the changeup last time and liked it again today.”
Added manager Brandon Hyde: “You saw against a lot of good right-handed hitters, that have been in the league for a while and seeing him for the second time in a week and he’s still catching them out in front. Because he’s got the 92-to-95-mph fastball that he’s throwing at the top of the zone, throwing in, locating. Which sets up his changeup, and he’s got great arm speed with his changeup.”
He’s now very much pitching like an ace and stacking up good start after good start. Dating to his stunning four-start end to last year, he is 5-1 with a 1.63 ERA over his last 10 games, allowing one run or none eight times. He’s walked 13 and notched 68 strikeouts over 60 2/3 innings in that time.
Means used his fastball 43 percent of the time last night and his secondary pitches 57 percent. But he was relying heavily on his bread and butter: the changeup. He threw it 36 times and Oakland swung at the pitch 25 times, whiffing on 11 of them. Means got a career-high 22 swings and misses last night.
Means just looks completely in control out there. He’s been dominant.
“It feels pretty good, but I don’t want to sit back and look at it,” he said. “I’d like to just keep focusing on game-to-game and start-to-start. I’ve got the Mariners next, and that’s really all I’m worried about.
“I think I’m pretty comfortable with my mentality. I think last year I would get really frustrated when things weren’t going well. I’ve done a good job of just staying within myself and letting the game come to me. I’m just not making any moment too big, even with guys on base. Just trying to keep my cool and stay relaxed.”
And Hyde probably said it best when he talked about what is turning into a rather impressive body of work.
“I just think he’s completely matured as a major league pitcher, and he’s still continuing to get better,” the skipper said. “He’s got one full year in, and last year was a shortened year. I mean, he doesn’t have a whole lot of major league experience and he’s just improving. He’s improving.
“You’re seeing a pitcher develop at the big league level, and every time out. Last year he was overthrowing, made the adjustment. This year he’s really executing pitches. When he needs to elevate, he elevates. When he needs to dump in a breaking ball he can dump in a breaking ball. He’s still got a changeup. He’s turning into a complete pitcher.”
How did he do that?: After suffering a blown save Thursday, right-hander César Valdez was right back on the mound in the ninth last night, trying to record his sixth save. He would do it the hard way, allowing a pair of A’s singles to start the inning. Then he got a lineout and two fly outs as the A’s left the tying run at third and the winning run at first base.
This game looked very much like it would be lost in devastating fashion. Except it wasn’t.
“Well he’s earned a few days off,” said Hyde. “No, he’s just got moxie and poise and doesn’t seem like any situation rattles him. Makes big pitches in spots. I kind of pushed him tonight because he wanted to pitch. He was a questionable decision for me before the game, if he was going to be available. But he told everybody he wants to pitch.
“It would be nice to score a couple more to give a little breathing room in the ninth for all of our pitchers. Opportunities to score a couple of times, just have to push more runs across.”
Mountcastle’s offense: Maybe it is slowly starting to come together for the kid that was hitting .184 at game time. But then Ryan Mountcastle had two hits his last two at-bats with singles in the sixth and ninth.
Mountcastle had gone 13 straight games without a multi-hit game until the series opener.
“It’s good,” he said. “I think last road trip I had some really good at-bats, and I don’t think I had a hit last road trip. But I was hitting balls hard. You know, it was tough to watch. But I kept my head up, and I think stuff will start to fall and I’m going to start barreling some balls up soon and got to stay positive.
“I’m starting to feel a little better. Not the start I wanted to have this year, but you know I’m taking it day by day. I’m going to keep working hard and keep my head up.”
The Orioles had lost 11 of 12 games this year when scoring three runs or fewer until they hung on to win Friday night.
They were 2-3 in one-run games until pulling out these wins versus the Yankees and Athletics the last two games.
The Orioles bullpen recorded two more scoreless innings of relief and has now logged a 1.49 ERA over the last 13 games.
They are now 12-14 overall, 8-4 on the road and 5-4 in series-opening games.