After a seven-inning, two-run outing against the Oakland Athletics April 30, his sixth consecutive strong start to open the 2021 season, John Means did his best to downplay how well he was pitching.
“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 worrying about.”
Means did just that, but good luck dodging the spotlight now.
On May 5, Means fired a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners in a 6-0 Orioles win. His no-hitter is the 10th in O’s history and the sixth since the club moved to Baltimore. The team’s last no-hitter was a combined effort by four pitchers — Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson — in 1991. You have to go all the way back to Jim Palmer in 1969 for the O’s last solo no-hitter. It’s been a long time.
Means also now holds a dubious feat: He’s the first pitcher to throw an imperfect no-hitter that didn’t include a walk, hit by pitch or error. It’s also been more than 30 years since a pitcher threw a non-perfect no-hitter but faced the minimum 27 batters with no walks or hit by pitches.
The tale of the tape of Means’s no-hitter is jaw-dropping: 12 strikeouts and 0 walks in 113 pitches. The only blemish in his near-flawless outing? A wild pitch on a third strike that allowed Sam Haggerty to reach first base. Soon after, Haggerty was thrown out on an attempted steal by Pedro Severino, keeping Means on course to face the minimum 27 batters in his masterpiece. So, Means was basically perfect, but not technically. And, of course, the O’s have yet to record a perfect game in their history.
Means’ dominant start, with a game score of 99, is now easily one of the O’s best all time. Joe Trezza of MLB.com recently compiled a list of the top five single-game pitching performances in O’s history. Means’s no-hitter easily slots in somewhere above or between the very best that Mike Flanagan, Erik Bedard, Mike Mussina and others accomplished.
In the May 5 start, Means mainly relied on his four-seam fastball and changeup (as usual) to stifle the Mariners. He threw first-pitch strikes 26 of 27 times. He also registered 26 swings and misses, 14 of which came against his changeup. No wonder it’s one of the most effective pitches in the game.
Like a seasoned vet, Means kept hitters off balance and pounded the edges of the strike zone as if the ball were on a string, hurling only a handful of hittable pitches that the Mariners were unable to do much with.
Of the 15 batted balls the Mariners put into play, only six had an expected batting average better than .160. No Mariner had a batted ball with an exit velocity above 96.5 mph; the Orioles had the 10 hardest-hit balls in the game.
The no-hitter caps an incredible run by Means dating back to last season. In his last 11 starts since a “tough talk” with manager Brandon Hyde in September, Means has now allowed 11 runs in 69.2 innings. That’s good enough for a 1.42 ERA. In that span, he has struck out nearly 32 percent of the batters he’s faced, while walking only 5 percent. That’s ace territory.
So what now — or rather, what does it all Means? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) The path that Means has taken to get here is remarkable, and it would be unwise to count him out or disregard the progress he’s made. The only way to convince people that he’s one of the game’s best pitchers is for him to keep producing, start after start. There will be bumps in the road — he knows that better than anyone — but his outlook has never been as bright as it is right now.
No matter what, though, he’ll always have this moment. O’s fans are thrilled to be along for the ride.
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