The return to form of All-Star left-hander John Means over the 2020 season's final weeks was going to be considered a welcome sight for the Orioles regardless of how his final outing went Saturday.
Means' season finale was not only a continuation of those efforts, but also a step beyond. Although the Toronto Blue Jays came away with a 5-2 victory, Means carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, with Cavan Biggio's two-out homer accounting for the only damage against him. Means ended the season with a 1.52 ERA across his final four starts, allowing no more than one earned run in any of those outings while striking out 30 over 23 2/3 innings.
But he was a hard-luck loser Saturday, as nemesis Randal Grichuk broke it open with a three-run homer after Means' exit and the Orioles (24-35) were unable to complete a rally.
Announced as Baltimore's opening day starter, Means instead began the season on the injured list with arm fatigue. In his season debut, he flashed a spike in velocity from a campaign that made him the Orioles' lone All-Star selection and the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year award, but he failed to get results with the improved stuff.
The same carried through in his first handful of outings, his season pausing again following the death of his father, Alan. Through six outings, Means had an 8.10 ERA.
But a conversation between Means and manager Brandon Hyde, one in which Hyde told the 27-year-old he seemed to be pitching out of frustration rather than simply pitching, sparked a turnaround. Means followed with consecutive six-inning, one-run starts on a road trip through New York. Last week against the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays, he struck out 12 in 5 2/3 innings, at one point tying the franchise record with seven strikeouts in a row.
He was on a similar run Saturday when the Blue Jays spoiled his no-hit bid. After a one-out walk to former Oriole Jonathan Villar in the first, Means retired 16 straight Toronto batters. From the last out of the fourth inning through the first of the sixth, he struck five straight, but Jonathan Davis ended the streak by lining out to left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat
Two pitches later, Biggio tagged an elevated slider out to right-center. It was Means' 96th pitch, likely saving Hyde from the difficult decision associated with balancing a pitcher's high pitch count with the pursuit of a no-hitter.
Means got Villar to ground out to complete the sixth with 99 pitches, ending his second full season with a 4.53 ERA.
Before the game, Hyde noted that Grichuk, who homered Friday for his sixth homer against the Orioles among 11 total this season, was out of Toronto's lineup.
"Probably can come off the bench, though," he cautioned.
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