BOSTON — An Opening Day starter isn’t always a true ace.
John Means sure looked like one by pitching the way he did in the Orioles’ 3-0 Opening Day win over the Boston Red Sox on Friday.
“He just did an amazing job,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just a clinic pitching-wise. The way he changed speeds, gave up the leadoff single and just cruised from there. Just the best I’ve seen him pitch for me, command of multiple pitches and the way he worked ahead in the count.”
The 27-year-old left-hander gave Hyde the best start of his fledgling major league career, allowing a single to lead off the game and only one base runner the rest of the game when Xander Bogaerts reached on an error to begin the second inning.
After that, Means retired 18 straight Red Sox hitters, including five on strikeouts. He made rookie Ryan Mountcastle’s bases-loaded, two-run double in the sixth inning hold up for a delayed Opening Day win that was worth the wait for the Orioles.
Means, who was supposed to start Opening Day last July against Nathan Eovaldi but missed the start due to a tired arm, did his part to ensure there would be a pitchers’ duel on the sunny but freezing field at Fenway.
It came after a turbulent personal year for Means, who lost his father, Alan, to pancreatic cancer last summer but welcomed his first son, McCoy, with his wife Caroline this offseason.
“It was pretty special,” Means said. “Just amazing to have my family here. …
“Fenway Park holds a special place in my heart. It was a really cool experience, something that I’ll have to tell my kids forever.”
Eovaldi kept the Orioles at bay early, and Means matched it despite seeming not to have his best fastball early. He was helped by retiring Kiké Hernández on a pickoff play in that first inning after his leadoff single when Hernández stumbled off the bag and was ruled out by replay review.
Means found his good changeup — his signature pitch — and was able to keep the Red Sox off-balance despite a fastball that’s maxed out around 95 mph over the last year-plus not often topping 93 mph Friday. His average velocity was down nearly 2 mph, according to MLB’s Statcast data.
Hyde seemed to think that was by design, the same way he did as he ended 2020 on a dominant run in September.
“When you look at the radar gun, it looked like he was throttling down a little bit and pitching,” Hyde said. “For me, that’s what he did the last three starts, four starts last year; was locating a really good fastball already but being able to add and subtract with his changeup and not overthrow it and not make it flat, as well as continuing to get confidence in his breaking ball. His stuff plays. It’s about pitching ahead in the count.
“I love the way John Means throws in, to be able to get them off of the changeup and off of the fastball down and a way, where they can’t look at one spot, where they can’t look up, down, but there’s multiple weapons that he goes to. And that’s what he’s done now. That’s what he did today, and that’s what he did the last few starts last year.”
Means said: “I had pretty good fastball-changeup command. I was getting ahead with the curveball, and then kind of putting some guys away with the fastball-changeup. I thought the command was pretty good, and I was just loose, fluid, just kind of letting the game come to me today.”
After third baseman Maikel Franco’s error to begin the second inning, Means didn’t allow another Red Sox hitter to reach base before he gave way to left-hander Tanner Scott to begin the eighth inning.
In the interim, Means struck out five Red Sox hitters with an effective fastball-changeup mix. He said it might not have been his most dominant major league outing since he debuted here in Boston in September 2018, but by efficiency and results, it certainly was.
By game score, Means’ mark of 80 was the best of his two-plus years in the big leagues, and better than any other Opening Day starter turned in Thursday.
The last pitcher to strike out five or more batters while allowing one or fewer hits in seven or more innings on Opening Day was Boston Beaneaters starter Irv Young in 1906, according to Baseball Reference’s Stathead service.
It was the first time the Red Sox were shut out on Opening Day since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer of the Orioles did it to them in 1976.
Scott walked two but struck out two in a scoreless eighth inning before 36-year-old César Valdez, who according to Elias Sports Bureau was the oldest player to make his first Opening Day roster in the last 30 years, recorded the save in the ninth.
A sixth-inning breakthrough
The Orioles broke Friday’s stalemate by chasing Eovaldi in the sixth inning and getting into Boston’s bullpen. After Pedro Severino reached on an infield single, the Red Sox brought reliever Matt Andriese in to face Trey Mancini.
Mancini walked, Anthony Santander reached on a fielder’s choice with no outs recorded, and rookie designated hitter Ryan Mountcastle doubled off the top of the Green Monster to score two.
“I thought he hit that ball out,” Hyde said. “To contribute the way he did and put a really nice swing on it to give us the lead and kind of break the ice for us a little bit; Opening Day is special for everyone. When it’s your first one, it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. And when you produce the way he did, that’s an incredible moment for him personally and was huge for us.”
The Orioles added an insurance run when Santander singled to right field to score Mullins in the top of the eighth inning.
Welcome back, Trey
That run-scoring hit for Santander might have actually belonged to Mancini at a different ballpark, but the confines Mancini enjoys so much at Fenway Park on Friday harmed him a bit.
Making his first regular-season start since September 2019 after missing all of 2020 with stage 3 colon cancer, Mancini’s first hit of the year came on a ground ball down the left-field line with Mullins on first in the eighth inning. Had it run into the corner, the speedy Mullins may have scored and Mancini would have had a double.
Instead, Mancini had to settle for a single and Mullins stopped at second base after the ball hit the wall that hugs foul territory down the third base line.
Mancini grounded into a pair of double plays in his first two at-bats before his sixth-inning walk.
Rio Ruiz, second baseman
Three of the most difficult outs the Orioles had to record in the field all came from Rio Ruiz, the longtime third baseman who made a surprising start at second base.
Ruiz wiped out what could have been a messy second inning after Franco’s error by running deep behind first base to make a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch on a fly ball in front of Santander.
In the fifth inning, Ruiz made a basket catch in center field on a ball only he could get to to end that inning. And on his first ground ball chance, which came in the eighth inning, Ruiz ranged to his left and made a diving stop behind first base to get Alex Verdugo at first.
“Rio played outstanding at second base,” Hyde said.
Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
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