The ace does it again: Means pitches O’s past A’s (updated)

Giving up a homer would annoy any pitcher. Tonight when he gave up one, it seemed to really annoy Orioles left-hander John Means. And Oakland batters would pay for that.

A walk followed that solo homer in the Oakland second inning. Then Means would strike out eight of the next 12 Oakland batters and retire 14 in a row. He was well on his way to pitching another gem for the Orioles, as they beat Oakland 3-2 in the series and road trip opener.

This win got very dicey in the last of the ninth. César Valdez, who suffered a blown save yesterday, allowed two singles to start the ninth. But he pitched out of it, as Oakland left runners on the corners to end the game.

It was a solid start to a six-game road trip to face the top two clubs in the American League West. The Orioles are now 12-14 overall and 8-4 on the road.

The Orioles ended a seven-game losing streak at the Oakland Coliseum, which dated to Aug. 12, 2017.

Means went seven innings, allowing three hits and two runs with one walk and nine strikeouts. He improved to 3-0 with an ERA of 1.70 through six starts. He went seven innings for the third time and recorded his fourth quality start. In back-to-back games versus the A’s, he gave up three runs over 13 1/3 innings.

He produced an outstanding whiff rate of 46 percent, getting 48 swings and a career-high 22 swings and misses. Oakland swung at 25 of his changeups and whiffed 11 times.

Meanwhile, two players that gave the Orioles the lead yesterday, on an exciting double by Austin Hays that scored speedy Cedric Mullins from first in the eighth, came through again tonight at the top of the O’s order.

Hays-HR-Swing-Black-Sidebar.jpgThis time they both delivered longballs, going back-to-back for a 2-1 lead in the top of the third.

Down 1-0 on Sean Murphy’s homer in the second, Mullins batted with two outs in the O’s third. He drilled an 0-1 slider down the right-field line for a 355-foot homer and a 1-1 tie. GameTracker showed that Mullins hit his fourth homer off a pitch that was not even a strike. It was inside, a couple of inches off the plate, but he got the bat head to the ball and came through for the Orioles again. Hays followed with a line drive homer to left on a Mike Fiers’ 2-2 changeup and the O’s had a 2-1 lead. Hays hit No. 3 and it went 106 mph off the bat and 383 feet into the seats.

This was the second time this season the Orioles went back-to-back. Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander did it April 10 versus Boston.

The Orioles lead grew to 3-1 in the fifth on Mullins’ RBI groundout. Chance Sisco led off the frame with a single and went to third on a Ramón Urías double. Mullins’ grounder moved both runners up but the O’s got just the one there to lead by two runs.

In the sixth, Baltimore put the first two runners on via a DJ Stewart walk and Ryan Mountcastle single. But they didn’t score that time as Rio Ruiz bounced into a double play and Pat Valaika flew out.

Paul Fry and Travis Lakins Sr. combined to pitch a scoreless eighth. Lakins got Jed Lowrie to fly to center with runners on the corners to end the inning and then Valdez wriggled out of it in the ninth.

Oakland (16-11) is in first-place in the AL West, but the Athletics have now lost four of six, scoring 11 total runs in those games. This run began Sunday when they lost 8-1 to the Orioles. The starting pitcher? Means.

So the offense didn’t put up a big number again, but this time, Means had the hitters’ backs as the Orioles improved to 4-2 in his 2021 starts.

In Game 2 of this series on Saturday at 4:07 p.m., O’s right-hander Matt Harvey (2-1, 4.26 ERA) pitches against lefty Jesús Luzardo (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Manager Brandon Hyde via Zoom on Means: “I just thought he located extremely well. Pitch mix, the pitch mix was there, adding and subtracting. Pitching to both sides of the plate. Pitching unpredictable. And to face a really good team twice in a week is not easy to do. And he made some adjustments tonight to them. Only gave up a couple of hits through seven innings. That is a tough lineup to face once and he does it twice in a week and pitched outstanding.”

Means on how good his was stuff tonight: “You know, I really liked my changeup tonight. Wasn’t a huge fan of my fastball command, to be honest with you. Curveball wasn’t really getting over a lot. Slider felt good, too, especially against the lefties. But, yeah, I was pretty disappointed with my fastball command tonight, but the changeup was a saving grace.”

Mountcastle on having a two-hit night: “It’s good. 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 just got to stay positive.”

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