Left-hander John Means has been terrific in each of his past three starts, but it only took one swing by Texas Rangers designated hitter Nick Solak to make him a loser on Thursday night.
Means gave up just one hit through six innings, but Solak’s two-run homer in the seventh carried the Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles before an announced crowd of 8,209 at Camden Yards.
The loss didn’t change the fact that Means has bounced back from a choppy string of performances in late July and early August during which he lost five of six decisions.
He held the Tampa Bay Rays to just a run on five hits over seven innings in his previous start at Oriole Park and also allowed five hits over seven innings on Friday in Kansas City.
With his 6 2/3-inning, four-hit performance Thursday, he has allowed just five earned runs over his past 20 2/3 innings, but the loss dropped his record to 10-10.
“I feel like I was getting ahead well,” Means said. “I feel like my changeup was doing what it should have done. It’s frustrating, because it just seems to be that last inning that I need to just get through. As a starter, you have to finish the outing. It’s something that I need to start doing to win over this coaching staff, and it’s something that I pride myself in.”
Means has been pitching with a lot on his mind. He recently took family emergency leave to be with his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has to put the outcome of a baseball game at the end of a rebuilding year in a much different perspective.
"It’s tough,'' he said. “I have a different perspective on this game because of everything that’s going on, and I try not to let this sport affect me a whole lot. I go out there pretty loose, just because there’s things that are a lot more important.”
The game certainly could have ended differently if the Orioles hitters could have done just a few of the little things to squeeze some run production out of a string of opportunities.
They greeted Rangers starter Kolby Allard with back-to-back singles to open the first inning and came up empty to set the tone for the entire evening.
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The O’s had runners on base in every inning but the third and had a runner in scoring position with no one out in five of those innings. But a couple of base running mistakes and the inability to move runners up limited them to just a sacrifice fly by Renato Nunez that gave Means a short-lived 1-0 lead in the sixth inning.
"He did a great job,'' manager Brandon Hyde said. “We just didn’t hit with runners in scoring position. We didn’t do a very good job of situational hitting. We left (nine) on, so we had our opportunities. He definitely deserved better, but we just didn’t get it done offensively tonight.”
The young left-hander was as efficient has he been at any time during his surprising rookie season, but he blinked in the seventh, allowing a leadoff single to Elvis Andrus and the Solak homer one out later.
When Logan Forsythe followed with a two-out double, Hyde figured 90 pitches were enough. Three Orioles pitchers finished up another game that could have so easily gone the other way.
"[Means] has pitched really well a lot of the the year, but tonight was a little different, maybe even the pace of the game,'' said right fielder Trey Mancini. “He usually works pretty fast, but he was in total control until the top of the seventh. That hit leaked through and just that one pitch he got up to Solak, but besides that, he did an incredible job and we wish we could have gotten him a win tonight.”
The Rangers would add an insurance run on an RBI single by Forsythe in the ninth and should have gotten more out of a sloppy inning that featured a walk, two hit batsmen and a throwing error.
The Orioles put the tying runs on base in the ninth inning, but Hanser Alberto flew out to left to end the game.