BALTIMORE—Before Sunday, John Means had never struck out more than seven batters in a game. He did it by the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Means, whose season had started with arm fatigue and the death of his father, has been outstanding in his last three starts.
On Sunday, he struck out 12 in 5 2/3 innings to lead the Orioles to a 2-1 victory over the Rays in the final home game of the 2020 season.
Tampa Bay won the first four games of the five-game series, even though Oriole starters had pitched well. The difference was on offense, where the Orioles had scored one run in seven of their previous 10 games.
On Sunday, they doubled that, and it was enough.
They scored the two runs in the first inning, and it held up behind Means’ overpowering start and solid relief pitching. The Orioles are 23-31 with six games left. They are 1-20 when scoring three runs or fewer.
Means is 2-3 with 5.02 ERA. In his last three starts against the Mets, Yankees and Rays, he’s allowed three runs on 11 hits in 17 2/3 innings.
“I’m glad that I kind of found my way again,” Means said in a video conference call. “I have one start left. I wish there was 100 games left, but that’s not the case this year. I’m going to take that into next year and [aim for] the playoffs, and just keep going, just kind of be me. I think I got away from myself.”
After Manuel Margot reached on an error and was picked off, Means hit Randy Arozarena with a pitch, then struck out seven straight, tying the club record set by Sammy Stewart in his major league debut on September 1, 1978.
Keegan Akin struck out six straight on Wednesday against Atlanta.
Means struck out Yoshi Tsutsugo three times. His fourth-inning strikeout was his eighth, setting a career high, then had a 13-pitch at-bat against Kevan Smith before striking him out. Willy Adames hit his seventh home run of the year, cutting the Orioles’ lead to 2-1 before Means struck out Nate Lowe, his 10th.
“I knew I was getting the swings and misses,” Means said. “I had the fastball going today. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. I had my good fastball that was riding pretty well. I didn’t know it was that many, but I had an idea.”
In the fifth, Matt Zunino struck out. After Means hit Arozarena again, Tsutsugo struck out and Smith popped to second before manager Brandon Hyde called for Dillon Tate.
“When he’s got the other pitches going, he’s got the good changeup and two different breaking balls, he’s going to punch more people out,” Hyde said. “Because they can’t sit on the elevated fastball or the changeup.”
Tate struck out two in an inning, and Hunter Harvey retired all four batters he faced, striking out two.
The Orioles struck out 16 Rays, one short of the club record.
César Valdez threw eight pitches in the ninth to record his second save.
Means allowed a run on three hits with the 12 strikeouts, throwing 97 pitches.
He’ll get his final start next weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“You never want to have a whole year that you can’t figure it out,” Means said. “Being able to come into my own and just calm down a little bit and pitch well is definitely going to help me going into my offseason.”
The Orioles scored their two runs in the first against Ryan Yarbrough. Hanser Alberto singled. Austin Hays singled and took second on the throw to third. After Ryan Mountcastle grounded to short with the infield in, Renato Núñez blooped a single to short left-center to score Alberto and Hays.
Núñez was the designated hitter, and he appreciated how Means dominated Tampa Bay’s hitters.
“He was amazing, man,” Núñez said. “How he was throwing today. He was something else. I don’t know how many strikeouts he had, 12 or 13? That’s a lot, man.”
Yarbrough allowed two runs on five hits in seven-plus innings.
Castro trade complete: The Orioles received shortstop Victor González from the New York Mets as the player to be named later in the trade for relief pitcher Miguel Castro.
The 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic has yet to play professionally. Earlier, the Mets sent left-handed pitcher Kevin Smith to the Orioles.
González has been added to the 60-man player pool. Right-handed pitcher Chandler Shepherd has been released.
On Friday, the Orioles received shortstop Isaac De León as the player to be named later from Miami in the trade for reliever Richard Bleier, and outfielder Mishael Deson from Colorado in the deal for reliever Mychal Givens.
Because the regular season is ending in a week, De León, Deson and Gonzalez won’t be reporting to the alternate site in Bowie.
The Orioles will receive two players to be named later from Atlanta for starter Tommy Milone and one from Houston for pitcher Hector Velázquez.
Baltimore acquired right-handed pitcher Conner Loeprich from the Pittsburgh Pirates for international signing bonus slots. The 23-year-old right-hander was 6-8 with a 3.68 ERA in 55 minor league games in 2018 and 2019.
Outfielder Mason Williams has been released and right-handed pitcher Asher Wojciechowski cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles’ 60-man player pool is full, and the 40-man roster has 39 players.
Mancini at first?: With the surplus of young outfielders, it’s natural to think that Trey Mancini could play first base next season. He has missed this season after surgery for colon cancer.
“I think that’s something we’re going to talk about this winter,” Hyde said. “We’ll go into spring training with a plan. I don’t think we’ve even gotten there …”
Mountcastle relaxed on defense: Mountcastle started the game in left field and moved to first base in the seventh. He’s become adept in left and at first.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’ve been putting a lot of extra work in at both positions,” Mountcastle said. “I feel pretty comfortable at both.”
Coming up: Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Alex Cobb are the Orioles’ scheduled starters for their three-game series with the Boston Red Sox that begins Tuesday at Fenway Park. Boston has Nathan Eovaldi pitching Wednesday, but hasn’t named its starters for Tuesday and Thursday.
Odds and ends: José Iglesias, who left Saturday’s game after he was hit by a pitch in the eighth inning and was diagnosed with a bruised left wrist had X-rays and a CT-scan. “All his tests came out negative,” Hyde said. “He’s just sore, and we’re hoping he can play in a few days. He’s still day-to-day. The wrist’s still sore, and we’ll see how he is after the offday.” … Sunday’s game was played in two hours, 31 minutes, the shortest nine-inning game of the season … The Orioles have their final offday on Monday and finish the season with three in Boston and three against Toronto in Buffalo …The Orioles are scheduled to begin the 2021 season on April 1 in Boston. Their home opener is April 8 against the Red Sox.