I may have strayed far from the discipline of my early years of blogging, but I'm not so far gone that I won't check back in on the occasion of the best-pitched Orioles game of my lifetime, if not the history of the team.
I've watched hundreds upon hundreds of O's games in the past three decades, but I'd never witnessed a no-hitter by a Baltimore pitcher - until yesterday. I've seen position players earn wins and saves on the mound. I've seen Cal Ripken, Jr. break a seemingly ironclad longevity record. I've been inside the ballpark for a Chris Davis three-homer game, a Felix Pie cycle, and three thrilling postseason victories. But I hadn't seen an Oriole so much as carry a hitless game into the ninth inning since Daniel Cabrera's bid at history was cut short by a Robinson Cano single with one out in the last frame at the end of the 2006 season. I haven't done the research, but it seems like O's starters give up their first hit in the 7:00 hour more often than not when I go to a game.
So it was that I found myself checking Twitter in the middle of the afternoon yesterday and noting that John Means had coasted through the first four innings of a getaway game in Seattle with only one base runner allowed. That was Seattle outfielder Sam Haggerty, who had the good fortune to swing through strike three on a pitch that bounced past the grasp of catcher Pedro Severino. (Sevy made amends by throwing out Haggerty on a steal attempt shortly thereafter...more on that later.) I didn't want to act in haste, so I kept tabs on the game via social media as Means breezed through innings five and six. Then I felt emboldened to tune in, through assuredly legal means of streaming video.
By the time Means took the mound in the home half of the eighth inning, he had a 6-0 cushion, bolstered by a solo home run from Pat Valaika and a three-run shot from the resilient Trey Mancini. In a rare exception, we were watching the game play out at the dinner table, because #47 just looked that good. He had another 1-2-3 trip to the mound, and just three outs separated him from a piece of history.
As the Mariners stepped up to take their last swings, Janet and I stood expectantly in front of the laptop, which was still resting on our dining room table. Dylan Moore made weak contact, with third baseman Rio Ruiz snagging a popup in foul territory. Two more. Haggerty whiffed again on a 2-2 pitch, but Severino held on this time as Means tied a career high with his twelfth strikeout. One last out to get. The drama was short-lived, as M's shortstop J. P. Crawford swatted a soft line drive to his counterpart. Ramon Urias gloved the ball, and the jubilation began. The infielders swarmed John Means at the mound. The outfielders and the bench players and coaches raced in from their respective posts. The relievers embraced in the bullpen. Janet and I each hollered and high-fived, while Finn covered his ears.
John Means did not technically throw a perfect game, thanks to baseball's idiosyncratic rules about dropped third strikes. But he faced the minimum 27 batters without issuing a walk or a hit, nor did any Seattle batter reach on an error. This was the first such game in MLB history, and it was also the first no-hitter by the Orioles since the Milacki-Flanagan-Williamson-Olson patchwork effort in Oakland back in 1991. What's more, it was the first complete game no-hitter for the Birds since Jim Palmer shut down those same Athletics in 1969. Yesterday, a former 11th-round pick put an exclamation point on his rise to the top of the sport by ending the longest active solo-no-hitter drought in the major leagues. It was a great way to spend a Thursday afternoon in May.