Orioles left-hander John Means didn’t flirt with perfection Tuesday night in his first start since his no-hitter last week in Seattle.
Instead, locked in a pitcher’s duel with New York Mets starter Marcus Stroman at Citi Field that the Orioles lost, 3-2, after César Valdez allowed a pair of runs in the ninth inning, Means simply maintained the form that’s made him one of the game’s best pitchers since the last time he faced these Mets in September.
This time, he merely gave the Orioles six shutout innings to give him his fourth straight quality start. While Means allowed six hits, none of those came with runners in scoring position, and he added another start to a portfolio that has put the rest of the game on notice.
“I was really impressed with how he came back after the big day five or six days ago to then repeat that and pitch extremely well today on the road in New York,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “A really good start by John.”
It was between a pair of back-to-back starts last summer against the Mets when Means had his infamous “tough talk” with Hyde in which the skipper implored him to get back to his relaxed, easy way on the mound and be the kind of pitcher he was when he was an All-Star.
In 75 ⅔ innings over 12 starts since that Sept. 8 outing that turned things around for Means, he has a 1.31 ERA with 83 strikeouts and a .687 WHIP. Most of the time, he’s looked like he did Tuesday: mixing pitches well, locating his fastball and limiting damage when he gets into trouble.
The prospect of repeating his no-hit heroics ended four pitches into the game when Jeff McNeil singled to open the Mets’ first inning, but nothing came of it. Means said it was a relief to get it out of the way early.
He allowed only one other hit until the fourth inning, and in that fourth and again in the sixth, Means stranded runners on first and third to keep his shutout intact.
“I felt OK,” Means said. “I thought my fastball command wasn’t great. I like what my changeup was doing but that was kind of it. I made pitches when I needed to, especially inside. But the fastball command, I just left a couple over that got hit pretty hard.”
He was at just 74 pitches when National League rules without a designated hitter forced him out of the game.
Stroman hadn’t allowed a hit since the second inning when Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco each singled to begin the sixth. Rio Ruiz bunted them into scoring position, and with first base open, the Mets automatically walked No. 8 hitter Pedro Severino to bring up Means and force the Orioles into a decision.
Means was ready to hit, but instead Hyde sent up pinch-hitter DJ Stewart. Mets manager Luis Rojas countered by removing Stroman for left-handed reliever Aaron Loup. Instead of batting Stewart left-on-left, Hyde pinch-hit Pat Valaika for Stewart. Valaika drove the first pitch he saw to the warning track in right field for a sacrifice fly, giving the Orioles (16-20) the lead.
Hyde said a lot went into the decision, but the Orioles’ struggles to score runs recently won out. Means having pitched nine innings his last time out and being close to his pitch count factored in as well.
“If it’s a situation where we possibly have already scored and I can keep him in the game with a bunt situation, there’s different scenarios obviously,” Hyde said.
“We’re not scoring a ton of runs so we’re looking to scratch one across there and try to get the lead.”
They kept that lead until the ninth inning when the Mets scored twice off the closer Valdez to erase a 2-1 deficit. After back-to-back singles by Kevin Pillar and former Oriole Jonathan Villar, Valdez struck out James McCann. Dominic Smith followed with a single to right field past a diving Austin Hays that scored Pillar, and Villar went to third when the ball bounced away from Severino at home plate.
Pinch-hitter Patrick Mazeika then scored Villar from third on a ground ball to first base to end the game, his second walk-off fielder’s choice in a week to give the Mets their sixth straight win. Mazeika, who has yet to record a hit in his major league career, is the first player since RBIs became official in 1920 with multiple walk-off RBIs in his first four career games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Wall ball, then small ball
Right fielder Austin Hays began the eighth inning by driving a ball to the center field warning track, one that Mets center fielder Albert Almora Jr. gloved briefly before crashing into the wall and losing it to allow Hays to reach third for a triple.
Reliever Trevor May struck out Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle, but Galvis laid down a soft squeeze bunt and Hays scored the insurance run.
“I was really happy with the situational hitting,” Hyde said. “[Valaika] with a big hit off the bench. [Ramon] Urías comes in on a double switch he gets a big knock. Freddy Galvis, that was just a baseball play with a runner on third and two outs and lays down a perfect drag bunt.”
That extra run looked like it would be crucial after Tanner Scott allowed Adam Plutko’s leadoff walk to score on a single by Michael Conforto in the eighth inning before getting an inning-ending double play to keep the narrow lead.
Braves claim Flaa
Right-hander Jay Flaa, the longtime Orioles farmhand who made his major league debut on April 27 with a scoreless inning, was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves after being designated for assignment Saturday to clear a roster spot for waiver claim Brandon Waddell.
Flaa, 28, had a 3.49 minor league ERA since he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB draft.
Wednesday, 12:10 p.m.
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