BALTIMORE—In the past two games, Orioles starters have delivered their two best performances of the season. On Saturday night, Dylan Bundy allowed three hits in 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Two nights later, John Means followed it with seven quality innings.
Means, who had never seen the sixth before in his previous four starts, got through seven, giving up a run on three hits as the Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox, 4-1, on Monday night.
Before Bundy’s outing, only Andrew Cashner, who pitched seven innings on April 23, had gone seven. Now, three starters have done it in 35 games.
Means didn’t walk a batter and struck out four as he held Boston’s top five hitters in check. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Michael Chavis and Rafael Devers were a combined 0-for-15 against him.
The biggest surprise of the season is Means, who doubted that he would make the Opening Day roster and has turned into the staff’s irreplaceable left-hander.
“That was an impressive performance,” manager Brandon Hyde said “I love the way John Means competes. I love the way he moves his fastball around, throws in off the plate, spots up, up in the zone, above the zone. I thought tonight was the best … You know, he’s got two breaking balls, and he utilized them more. The more he’s out there and able to give the hitter something else to think about the better he’s going to be.”
Means was 35-41 in the minor leagues. He’s now 4-3 in the majors.
“I just feel comfortable up here,” Means said “I feel like these games really matter. I was never a prospect, so I feel like my back’s against the wall every time I go out there, and I feel like I pitch better that way.”
Hyde thinks Means has the tools to succeed.
“What I’m seeing is a guy that’s aggressive in and out of the strike zone, great tempo, holds runners,” Hyde said. “Got a plus-changeup and is starting to really develop two breaking balls. You’re seeing a four-pitch pitcher right now, a guy that you can’t sell out on one pitch. The changeup’s really good, and that’s something that’s in the back of their head all the time. And his fastball’s good enough to play by guys, which you saw especially early in the game.”
Means had completed five inning three times. In his last two starts, he threw 92 and 91 pitches, but was much more economical in this performance.
In his first four innings, Means got nine of 12 outs on ground balls. After Christian Vazquez doubled to lead off the fifth, he retired his final nine batters.
“I actually didn’t look at it,” Means said of the pitch count. “I didn’t want to look at it. I just came in the dugout, stayed locked in and then after I was done I asked (David) Hess what my pitch count was. I thought I had hit 100, but it was only 96 or something.”
Means got his offense on Jonathan Villar’s grand slam in the second. It came an inning after he apparently led off the first with a double to left. However, after manager Alex Cora appealed, it was ruled that a fan interfered with Martinez.
Rio Ruiz led off the second with a single, Stevie Wilkerson followed with a bunt single to third, and Chris Davis walked. After Pedro Severino and Richie Martin struck out, Villar homered.
It was Villar’s fourth home run of the season, the Orioles’ first grand slam of the season. Hitting with the bases loaded has been a weakness for the Orioles, who are only 4-for-26 with runners on first, second and third.
“Very happy because that’s my second grand slam in the major leagues,” Villar said. “Not only for me, but for the team. The team is winning like that. It’s unbelievable.”
The Orioles are 13-22, and have won consecutive games at home for just the second time. Their record at home is 5-11. Last year, it took until the 41st game for them to win their 13th.
Paul Fry recorded two outs in the eighth, and Mychal Givens picked up his fourth save when he retired the last four Boston batters.
Move that game along: The game was played in two hours, 39 minutes. In their last three games, the Orioles have played three of the four fastest of the season. Saturday’s two hours, 19 minutes was the swiftest.