27 up, 27 down but NOT perfect? Here's how

May 6th, 2021

Over the 121 years that constitute modern Major League Baseball history, only 23 times has a pitcher walked onto the mound mortal and off it perfect. For hundreds of thousands of others, perfection is merely a fleeting fantasy, missing it less a failure than a certainty. But it’s never escaped anybody quite like how it did John Means on Wednesday afternoon in Seattle.

Striking out 12 without a walk to complete the Orioles' first solo no-hitter in more than a half century, the only thing separating Means from the first perfect game in the O's storied history was a third-inning dropped third strike. The curveball whiffed Sam Haggerty but eluded catcher Pedro Severino, who promptly threw Haggerty out attempting to steal second a few pitches later. It was an innocuous series of events at the time.

A few short hours later, Means was staring down the barrel of history. His no-hitter will live in history with a completely unique caveat: it is the first non-perfect no-hitter in which the opposing team did not record a walk, a hit by pitch or an error. Effectively, it was the first no-hitter in Major League history in which the only baserunner reached on a dropped third strike.

“It's fine -- it happens to everybody,” Means said. “It's not a big deal. I'm just happy that I got through. Honestly, I'm happy I went complete game. I was stuck in the seventh inning, that was the farthest I've gone so far [in my career]. So to be able to go eighth and ninth -- I was happy with that. But you know, to get a good no-hitter -- I could care less that it wasn't a perfect game.”

Severino popped up on the 1-2 curveball in the dirt to Haggerty, allowing it to skip to the backstop. Blocking and receiving in general has been an area of focus for Severino since becoming the Orioles' everyday catcher in 2019; he tied for the Major League lead with five passed balls in 2020, and he ranks at the bottom of Statcast’s Runs from Extra Strikes metric this season. He had been 0-for-7 throwing out attempted basestealers before nailing Haggerty.

“It’s supposed to be my job to block that ball right there, so when he stole second, I did my best throw to second to try to help Means,” Severino said. “He would’ve thrown a perfect game today if I didn’t let that breaking ball between my legs. I feel a little bit bad. But we still threw the no-hitter and we still celebrated.”

Otherwise, though, Means and Severino spent Wednesday completely in sync. Means fired first-pitch strikes to his first 17 batters -- 26 of 27 overall -- needing 113 pitches to breeze thrice through the Mariners’ lineup. He registered 14 swinging strikes on his changeup; 51.4 percent of his changeups resulted in either called or swinging strikes. Meanwhile, Severino kept putting down the right fingers.

“I thought he and Sevi had a great rhythm between them,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. “You rarely saw John shake. The tempo was amazing. I thought [Severino] received the ball extremely well. I’m really proud of him. He’s come a long way behind the plate and his receiving is improving. To catch a no-hitter, that's something he's never going to forget.”

Asked about the dropped third strike, Hyde chose to focus on what the Means-Severino battery did accomplish, not what it fell just short of.

“I don’t want to take away from anything,” Hyde said. “I just want to enjoy this special day. It's early in the game and there was a lot of game left, and then [Severino] makes an A-plus throw on a stolen-base attempt to put it right on the bag. So just want to enjoy this, honestly.”