With 2020′s rules for shortened doubleheader games carrying into 2021, the Orioles found themselves down to their last out Tuesday when Ryan Mountcastle came up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Because the previous year’s extra-innings rules endured as well, they started the bottom of the eighth with a runner automatically on second base.
While the opposing Seattle Mariners capitalized on their automatic runner in the top half of the inning — with Kyle Seager driving a long double off left-hander Tanner Scott — the Orioles couldn’t do the same, falling 4-3 in eight innings in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. It marked their sixth loss in seven games and fourth straight to open their first homestand.
They had completed their rally from an early 3-0 deficit in the seventh when Mountcastle doubled and DJ Stewart drove him in with a single. But Freddy Galvis struck out to end the inning and send it to what was officially extra innings. By being the last batter retired, he started the bottom of the eighth at second.
Their three batters in the inning hit balls with exit velocities exceeding 97 mph, according to Statcast, but all three resulted in outs. Cedric Mullins smoked a lineout to Seager at third. Trey Mancini’s deep drive to right-center got fans on their feet before being caught on the warning track; Statcast gave the ball an expected batting average of .690 based on its exit velocity and launch angle. Anthony Santander ended the game with a hard groundout up the middle at 102.3 mph, stranding Galvis at third.
“In certain spots here the last few days, we’ve been hitting some balls on the nose and getting unlucky,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We hit three balls on the nose in the eighth inning, lineout, flyball in the deepest part of the park, caught against the wall, and then Santander hit that ball hard, too, up the middle.”
For as dominant as John Means was at the end of the 2020 season, it became easy to forget that there was one problem that continued to haunt him in his terrific four-start finish.
Means held each opponent he faced to only one run while pitching into the sixth inning in all four of those starts, but each time, a home run was responsible for that blemish. That problem returned for Means in his first start at Camden Yards in 2021.
With his first two starts of the season, both homerless, Means tied Hall of Famer Jim Palmer for the franchise record with six consecutive starts allowing one run or fewer. But six batters into Tuesday’s outing, the streak was over, with Seattle’s Ty France and Tom Murphy taking Means deep to left field. Over the past two seasons, Means has allowed nine home runs in 26 ⅔ innings at Oriole Park after surrendering 11 in 92 innings at his home park in his All-Star rookie season in 2019.
“I didn’t execute the game plan early,” Means said. “I wasn’t coming after them. I wasn’t locating well. I just wasn’t pitching like myself.”
After Murphy’s solo shot in the second, Taylor Trammell drove a ball into the left-field corner, but a running catch from Stewart got the first out. Means followed by issuing a walk and two singles to bring in a third run.
Second baseman Ramón Urías was able to turn a line drive from France into an inning-ending double play, sparking a run of outs for Means. After allowing six of the first 10 Mariners he faced reach base, he retired the next 10 with four strikeouts.
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“I hate starting the game off like that, for all the hitters,” Means said. “It’s just lack of momentum on my part just to come out and give up three runs in two innings. I just need to attack more and get the game going a little bit on a better note, but obviously, I’m happy with how I bounced back. The last thing I needed there was to let it get even worse.”
A leadoff walk in the sixth ended his day, with Travis Lakins Sr., Baltimore’s 27th man for the doubleheader, striking out two of the next three Mariners to preserve Means’ line.
While Means struggled early, Mariners left-hander Justus Sheffield was effective from the jump. Mullins continued his season-opening tear with an infield single to open the bottom of the first, but Sheffield got Mancini to ground into a double play. Another Oriole didn’t reach until Mullins opened the fourth with a walk, but Mancini again hit into a double play.
The Orioles’ fortunes changed in the fifth, when Stewart drew a two-out walk ahead of a home run to right-center field from Urías. Sheffield recovered to retire the next four Orioles, with right fielder Mitch Haniger’s sliding catch denying Mancini an extra-base hit.
Hyde said the Orioles too often chased Sheffield’s slider beneath the strike zone.
“I thought we took really good at-bats late in the game, but the first five innings, we really let Sheffield off the hook,” Hyde said. “Our plan against him was we needed to see him up, out, over the plate, and he just kept feeding us sliders down. Especially early in the count, just a lot of weak outs. We’ve got to do a better job with our approach standpoint up and down the order to make it a little bit easier on ourselves.”