One fantastic, nearly perfect game does not a rebuild end.
John Means’ no-hitter Wednesday in Seattle does, however, raise a beacon for everyone down below in the minors and those who are looking for progress outside Baltimore that while the Orioles aren’t where they want to be yet, this team is far from hopeless.
“I think we have a really good team,” Means said, “and it’s about time people started to pay attention.”
At 15-16 through 31 games, the Orioles have certainly been more competitive than they were expected to be at the start of the season. He’s the undisputed first reason for that, pitching so well through his first six starts that the idea of him throwing a 27-out no-hitter with 12 strikeouts is only the smallest of logical leaps.
He can credit hitters like Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini and Austin Hays and the bullpen, but this is his show. Means is the one who started this season as well as any Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1977, and now has the first individual no-hitter for the club since Palmer’s in 1969, ending the longest drought without one of any major league franchise.
Palmer himself came of age in an era of fantastic Orioles staffs. He looks at Means, in control of his delivery and able to command four pitches and being “very adept at being totally unpredictable when he pitches,” and his assessment is clear: “He’s pitching as good as anybody,” Palmer said.
The rotations Palmer was a part of in those Orioles glory years are almost impossible to replicate, especially in the modern game. Yet fans still long for those days, and Palmer sees Means as, well, the Palmer of this era.
“I just think he’s going to be the mainstay,” Palmer said. “I was there for 20 years. He could be the mainstay of, hopefully, of this staff. Whether it’s [Dean] Kremer, whether it’s DL Hall, whether it’s Grayson Rodriguez, whether it’s Michael Baumann, whether it’s [Keegan] Akin, whether it’s [Zac] Lowther. I mean, the next wave, this is what you envision. You go back to where we were. That’s what I see.”
Means’ no-hitter came at a time in the baseball calendar that could have made it easy to overlook. The Orioles might as well have a banner hanging on the B&O Warehouse overlooking Camden Yards proclaiming that they’re rebuilding through the farm, and there’s a boatload of talent congregated around the Mid-Atlantic at their affiliates — especially on the mound.
Whether it’s spring training or at the team’s alternate training site last summer, every top pitching prospect in the organization has seen Means work in person, is familiar with his story and knows what it took for him to reach this station.
The unheralded young pitcher can see how Means, who admits he was on his way out of baseball, figured something out with the help of their new staff of progressive pitching coaches and turned himself into an All-Star. The top prospects can look at Means throwing no-hitters in the big leagues with an ERA that starts with a one and being compared with the game’s elite pitchers and see that for themselves, too.
Before the luxury amenities go into a building, there’s the foundation and an elevator shaft, all solid dependable concrete and upward mobility. The shiny parts come later. Means is the sturdy stuff you build around.
And he’s not wrong to say he’s off to this brilliant start for a team that’s not terrible. The Orioles deservedly had a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs, and flew back from Seattle with the exact same odds. When the world saw that, they figured it was still the miserable rebuilding club of yore.
This team, by and large, is certainly a more competitive one than the disaster that was 2019 and could still have its offense click around the Means-led pitching staff to create something that keeps them relevant late into the summer. They’ve had to send all three of their rookie starters to the minors at one point or another, have barely had reigning Most Valuable Oriole Anthony Santander on the field, and everyone besides Mullins has fallen short of early-season hopes.
On Wednesday, the group got a buoying experience from a pitcher who is doing his best to make anything else going on with the team moot on his day to start.
“You go to the ballpark, Meansy’s on the mound, it’s going to be a fun night,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “For me, that’s what you feel like when you have a No. 1 or a top of the rotation guy on the mound. When you get the ballpark, ‘Hey, we’ve got a really good chance to win this game.’ Meansy’s been doing that.”
That goes for the fans as well. Since the beloved stars of the last generation moved on in 2018, the best memories from this team are hardly indelible. Of all the walk-off wins, Rio Ruiz’s walk-off home run against the Houston Astros in a wild Sunday matinee was probably the most memorable. The major league debuts over the years were all fine moments.
But even on the road, on a warm afternoon back home, Means pulled attention away from the minor league box scores and the frustration with the rebuild and everything else. This will be a day to remember. Maybe these Orioles can recapture the imagination and keep hold of some of the attention Means is bringing them.
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“I think it makes it more interesting for the fans, not only this year, but as you look down the road,” Palmer said.