Even though he has been dominant this season, Oriole starter John Means thought a day like today was out of the question. He had never even pitched into the eighth inning of a game, and in Brandon Hyde’s three seasons as Orioles manager, he’d never allowed a pitcher to get even two outs in the eighth.
That all changed on Wednesday, a day that will go down in Orioles history.
Means pitched the Orioles’ first no-hitter since July 13, 1991 and the sixth in team history. He faced 27 hitters, the minimum number. When he struck out Seattle’s Sam Haggerty in the third, Haggerty reached first when the low breaking ball got past catcher Pedro Severino and was ruled a wild pitch. Haggerty then was thrown out by Severino trying to steal.
Means threw first-pitch strikes to 26 of 27 hitters. He struck out 12 and threw 113 pitches in the Orioles’ 6-0 win over the Seattle Mariners before 6,742 at T-Mobile Park.
“I didn’t know until, I think it was the sixth,” Means said about the no-hitter. “When you pitch away, they definitely let you know from the stands if you have a no-hitter or not. I finally figured that out. In the dugout, I just tried to keep my calm, keep my focus, and not worry about it too much and just stay loose.
“I was trying to talk to as many people as I could, and laugh and joke and try to stay as loose as I possibly can.”
It was the first non-perfect no-hitter in history with no walks, no batters hit-by-pitch and no errors, It was accomplished by a pitcher who was selected in the 11th round of the 2014 draft and who was never a top prospect.
“It’s special, it’s pretty crazy,” Means said. “I hope it lets everybody, every kid coming up knowing that anybody can do it. I was on my way out in the minor leagues, [trying to] figure out how to make a living out of this and, hopefully, kids coming up, even the ones overlooked, they have a chance.”
In the ninth inning, Means retired Dylan Moore on a popup to third baseman Rio Ruiz in foul territory, struck out Haggerty and, on the first pitch of the at-bat, J.P. Crawford hit a soft liner to shortstop Ramón Urias.
“When I started the inning, I got a little bit of the Jello legs,” Means said. “I felt a little wobbly, but once I threw that first pitch, I was able to lock in again.”
In the eighth inning, Seattle’s Kyle Lewis led off with a hard hit ball to deep left field that Austin Hays caught.
“I think I told Hays that ball was way out,” Means said. “Thank God he was there to catch it. If this was Camden Yards, it was probably gone. I’m glad we’re in Seattle.”
Manager Brandon Hyde saw two no-hitters by former Oriole Jake Arrieta when he was a coach with the Chicago Cubs, one in August 2015 and another in April 2016. This was much harder to watch.
“My stomach was turning from the eighth on,” Hyde said. “A lot of things are going through your head … I was just pulling for the guy. I had Dillon Tate up while we were hitting in the ninth. I didn’t want anybody up while he was pitching in the bottom of the ninth.
“‘How quickly can I get Tate in the game because he’s going to throw more pitches than I’m comfortable with after a hit?’ I wanted us to get three quick outs in the top of the ninth because I wanted to get it going.”
Means has been exceptional this season. On Opening Day, he allowed just one hit in seven shutout innings in Boston against the Red Sox.
It’s been a year in which Means has become one of baseball’s top pitchers. In 2020, he lost his father, Alan, to pancreatic cancer in August, pitched poorly, and then rebounded to throw four strong games to finish the season.
“I looked at my glove right before I went out there for the ninth,” Means said. “It has [my father’s] initials on it, and I said to myself, ‘he wouldn’t care, he’s just glad that I’m having a good time.’ The accolades never mattered to him, but it was pretty special, and I know he’d be proud.”
The last Orioles’ no-hitter was thrown by four pitchers — Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson. Jim Palmer threw the Orioles’ last solo no-hitter on August 13, 1969.
Palmer broadcast the combined no-hitter in Oakland in 1991 and watched Means’ no-hitter at home in California.
“Not to belittle no-hitters because they just kind of happen,” Palmer said. “They’re kind of a spur of the moment thing … A no-hitter is a no-hitter. It’s kind of like a freak thing. As well as he’s pitching, I don’t expect the team to get a whole lot of runs.
“The biggest factor is, I look at the modern-day starting pitcher. You can have no-hit stuff and maybe pitch six innings because the pitch count gets you. He was efficient. I don’t expect him to give up a whole lot of runs any time anymore. He’s been that good.”
Means can’t believe he’s compared with the greatest pitcher in Orioles’ history.
“To be in the same breath with Palmer, I don’t think it gets much better than that,” Means said.
The other no-hitters were by Hoyt Wilhelm on September 20, 1958, Tom Phoebus on April 27, 1968, and Steve Barber and Stu Miller on April 30, 1967. The Orioles lost the Barber/Miller no-hitter, 2-1, as the go-ahead run scored on an error. Barber walked 10 in 8 2/3 innings. Means came as close to perfection as one can.
“I never thought that would happen,” Means said about pitching a no-hitter. “I never thought in a million years. I was never that kid who had the confidence in myself to be able to get to this point. I never thought I’d be here. I’d always write ‘MLB player’ when I was a kid on the sheet when they asked you want you wanted to do when I was older. I never thought it was a reality.
“Now that it is, now that I’ve thrown this, it’s crazy. I don’t even know how to describe it. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Means, who was named an All-Star in his rookie season in 2019, has never been much for attention.
“I’ll probably shrug it off as much as I can,” Means said. “I just love baseball, man. I just love it. I just want to go out there every fifth day and compete. That’s all I care about. As long as I’m playing this game, I’m happy.”
The Orioles (15-16) scored two runs in the second on RBI singles by DJ Stewart and Ramón Urias. Pat Valaika hit his first home run in the seventh against Seattle starter and loser Yusei Kikuchi (1-2).
Trey Mancini hit a three-run home run in the eighth to make it 6-0. It was Mancini’s sixth of the season.
It didn’t matter to Means that he wasn’t credited with a perfect game despite facing just 27 batters.
“I’m just happy that I got through,” Means said. “I’m happy I went complete game. I was stuck in the seventh inning. That was the farthest I’ve gone so far. To be able to go eighth and ninth, I was happy with that, but to get a no-hitter, I could care less that it wasn’t a perfect game.”
Severino had never caught a no-hitter, and he felt badly that it couldn’t have been the 22nd perfect game in baseball history.
“He would have thrown a perfect game today if I don’t let that breaking ball get through my legs,” Severino said. “I feel very bad, but he still threw a no-hitter, and we celebrate. John Means is a really good pitcher … It’s not really hard to catch him.”