John Means threw his signature changeup, then grimaced and dropped his head. He knew immediately that his pursuit of a second no-hitter, just like the ball off Andrés Giménez’s bat, was gone. The two-out home run in the seventh inning marked the first hit Means allowed in his third start back with the Orioles after last year’s Tommy John elbow reconstruction, and it provided the only run the Cleveland Guardians scored in Baltimore’s 2-1 victory.
Means’ pitch count likely would have prevented him from finishing the feat, for the Orioles’ first solo no-hitter since 1969. Saturday’s start marked Means’ longest since that game, as well as the club’s deepest no-hit bid since. “I’m going until [manager Brandon Hyde] tells me no,” Means said.
“I was ready to go the whole time. ” He followed Giménez’s home run, on his season-high 89th pitch, by inducing a popout one offering later. And with a left-handed hitter opening the eighth, Hyde gave Means one more batter.
Hyde said before the game he wouldn’t put Means in an “unsafe situation,” but with the Orioles (96-59) playing their 16th of 17 straight games and their bullpen fatigued, he acknowledged length was much desired. Means provided that and more, with a third-inning walk and a fifth-inning hit batter accounting for the only base runners against him before the home run. A groundout to third baseman Ramón Urías, who caught a lineout at shortstop to complete Means’ no-hitter in 2021, finalized Saturday’s brilliance.
“John was exactly what we needed tonight,” catcher James McCann said. “Our bullpen has been stepping up huge for us all season long, and they needed a break, and that’s exactly what John did. He commanded extremely well.
He followed the game plan extremely well. He was in control from pitch one. ” Yennier Cano got the final two outs of the eighth, and Cionel Pérez pitched a perfect ninth as Baltimore ended its three-game losing streak.
The victory dropped the Orioles’ magic number to clinch the American League East to five, with the Tampa Bay Rays rallying for a walk-off victory over the Toronto Blue Jays earlier Saturday. Working at a tempo McCann called “phenomenal” and Hyde also praised, Means induced soft contact with regularity. Of the 19 balls the Guardians (74-82) put in play off Means, only five left the bat at 90 mph or harder, with Giménez’s home run hit above 97 mph.
Means relied mainly on his fastball and changeup, with that pair accounting for 79 of his 96 pitches as he struck out four. “I’m pleased to feel like I’ve gotten better every time, just getting more and more used to it,” Means said. “I’m feeling right where I want to be.
” After missing 17 months between elbow surgery and a back strain, he has a 2. 60 ERA across three starts. “It would have been nice to have him earlier,” McCann said.
“But what he’s been able to do coming back, it’s been huge for us. ” Aware he hadn’t given up a hit, Means said his first no-hitter helped reduce his nerves as he sought a second. He was disappointed he left a changeup higher than intended to Giménez, leading to Cleveland’s first hit being a home run that cut the Orioles’ two-run lead in half.
McCann, who has caught two no-hitters, said he didn’t start thinking about the possibility until a couple of batters before it vanished. As is typical, Means’ pursuit wasn’t discussed in the Orioles’ dugout, but he and McCann were able to smile about how close he had come after the bottom of the eighth. “He’s had one, I’ve had a couple, and I think we both knew that we had a shot at another one,” McCann said.
“They ended up only getting that one hit, so we were close. ” But it was doubtful Means would have been the one to finish it off, regardless. Including his five rehabilitation starts, he hadn’t pitched beyond the fifth inning or thrown more than 86 pitches this year before Saturday.
Hyde said he pushed Means “about as far as I could definitely take him, whether he gave up a hit or not. ” Before exiting his second start of last year with an injury that proved season-ending, Means spent much of Hyde’s five-season tenure as the club’s undisputed top starter, making the All-Star team in 2019. Hyde is pleased to welcome that pitcher back into Baltimore’s rotation.
“What he means from a strike-throwing ability, he’s our only left-handed starter, and it’s John Means,” Hyde said. “He pitched great. ” With the Orioles’ lead narrow in both the game and division race, Hyde’s priority, he made clear, was leaving Progressive Field with a victory.
That became his and the team’s singular focus after the home run. “It’s deflating for a second, obviously, just because of the fact that something special was potentially going to happen,” McCann said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to have a short memory because we’re now in a one-run game.
” Averaging more than five relievers used over the past six games, Hyde required only two behind Means. Given the workloads of others, he had converted starter Jack Flaherty warming in the ninth in case any of the frame’s first three batters reached base against Pérez. But a crisp inning left Flaherty in the bullpen and gave the Orioles 89 straight multigame series without being swept, extending their AL record.
Anthony Santander drove in both of Baltimore’s runs with hits in the first and sixth innings, giving him six RBIs in the first three games of this series against his former organization. The Orioles wasted many opportunities early, but Means ensured that didn’t matter. After beginning his career on Orioles teams that struggled to win, Means is grateful to be on one bound for the playoffs, strengthening his case to be in Baltimore’s postseason rotation with Saturday’s performance.
“You can’t beat it,” Means said. “You can’t get this feeling anywhere else. To be back with this team, after a win like that, it’s big time.
” Sunday, 1:40 p. m. MASN2 97.
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