Kansas City — Orioles’ left-hander John Means dreamed his whole life of pitching at Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium, the way he did Friday with seven strong innings in front of an estimated 100 friends and family who ditched the home team in favor of the vistors.
He likened it to his major league debut last year in Boston, replete with “little butterflies” during the first inning.
The backdrop of his hometown start, however, is more likely to leave a pit in one’s stomach than make it flutter.
Means spent the week on the family medical emergency list, home in the Kansas City area as the Orioles finished their homestand and traveled to Washington so he could be with his father, Alan, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Before Means revealed the reason for his absence after Friday night’s start, manager Brandon Hyde looked as if he was choking up in his postgame interview as he thought of what his All-Star starter was going through.
“Pretty emotional,” Hyde said. “I’m sure it’s an emotional night for him, and I can’t put myself in his shoes. For him to go out without his best stuff and give up two runs in seven innings in front of — I could hear his family and friends behind us. It’s just really impressive. He’s such a composed adult. He’s a man. I’m just really impressed with how he’s handling everything, and how he’s pitched tonight.”
Means said after the game that the team has been “great” in accommodating him.
“I really wanted to see him, and the coaching staff was definitely backing that,” Means said. “It just kind of worked out to where I could come home and just meet the team here.
"For a team like this to let me get away and see the family — I was still throwing. I was still staying on my routine. But it’s different. They’ve been great.”
When Means walked into the clubhouse around three hours before his start Friday, he was greeted by teammates and coaches. Hyde and first baseman Trey Mancini were among the first to go to his locker near the corner and offer an embrace.
He had used the time away to spend time with his family, and even once he got to work, he wasn’t away from them for long. As he walked in from the bullpen in left field, he couldn’t help but notice his cheering section was larger than his personal guest list for that night’s game.
“I can’t even count,” he said. “There were some people that didn’t even tell me they were coming that I saw as I was walking out of the bullpen, yelling my name.”
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Jorge Soler homered on the third pitch of the game into that same Orioles bullpen, and Means allowed some loud contact as the game went on, but he ultimately settled down. There were some loud outs, but also some quick innings with Means on the mound. The Orioles’ offense was far more patient, and made for several long waits for Means in the dugout.
Means was in the dugout on 74 pitches through seven innings, but another long wait meant Hyde had to make the difficult decision of removing Means with his first career complete-game well within reach.
“We were trying to figure out what the right thing to do was,” Hyde said. “He didn’t have a normal in-between start. We have a month to go in the season. I don’t want to push him any further than I want to. He was obviously cruising. We felt like the right thing to do was, because he was sitting so long during our offensive innings, to get him out of the game with a 10-run lead. Any other circumstance, he would have definitely gone back out. I would have loved to see him. We just felt like it was the right thing to do for him.”
The late exit meant he was still in uniform as his family was escorted onto the field at Kauffman Stadium for the postgame fireworks. Means’ entourage took up the entire lobby between the teams’ clubhouses.
When asked after the fireworks if he’d dreamed of pitching here, Means admitted that he had, with the caveat that he was a realist who figured he’d probably have to get another job. He felt that way as recently as last season.
But the reality he had to face Friday was far more complicated than he could have imagined. It left his teammates and coaches impressed.
“I think to perform like that in front of family and friends, obviously, I haven’t asked him about it but I’m sure it feels great,” Hyde said.