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All-Star Means stifles Rays en route to O's win

Rookie tosses seven strong before Baltimore breaks out in ninth
@JoeTrezz
July 4, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Straddling the mound Wednesday for the first time as an All-Star, John Means didn’t look all that much different than when he was anonymous. As he has since February, Means worked with the No. 67 on his back, fitting for someone who spent the spring fighting for

ST. PETERSBURG -- Straddling the mound Wednesday for the first time as an All-Star, John Means didn’t look all that much different than when he was anonymous.

As he has since February, Means worked with the No. 67 on his back, fitting for someone who spent the spring fighting for a roster spot. As he has since his first start in early April, he used his fastball and signature changeup in tandem, inducing a bevy of soft contact. And as he has so often this season, Means held a talented lineup largely in check.

The difference now is that Means is no longer anonymous; he’s one of the premier pitchers in the American League. That status was acknowledged on Sunday, when he was selected as Baltimore’s lone All-Star. On Wednesday, Means solidified it, logging seven strong innings before the Orioles ran away with a 9-6 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field, with the O's rallying for six runs in the ninth to stave off a sweep.

Box score

“He proved why he’s an All-Star pitcher tonight, like he does every time out, practically,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I was really hoping we’d get him the win.”

That eventually went to Mychal Givens, whose sensational diving tag at home of Kevin Kiermaier preserved the 3-3 tie in the eighth.

The Orioles then followed with their most explosive inning of the year, scratching together the go-ahead run on Pedro Severino’s fielder's choice and piling on via Jonathan Villar’s RBI triple and Renato Núñez’s three-run homer.

Baltimore sent 11 men to the plate in the top of the frame before Tampa Bay countered with three runs in the bottom half, eventually bringing the tying run to the plate and pushing its creaky ‘pen to the brink. But Shawn Armstrong struck out Tommy Pham looking to snap the O's three-game losing streak.

“I knew we had it the whole time,” Means said, in a celebratory postgame clubhouse. “I know it got a little sticky at the end, but I knew our pitchers were going to pull it out.”

Before all that, Means capped his emergent first half by holding the Rays to three runs (two earned) while striking out five without a walk, lowering his ERA to 2.50 over 14 starts. Next on the schedule? A date in Cleveland.

“I hope I can pitch,” Means said.

It’s fair to assume AL All-Star skipper Alex Cora feels the same. Means will head to Ohio fully rested, riding a seven-start unbeaten streak dating back to May 18, and the owner of one of the Midsummer Classic’s best stories. He is the first Orioles rookie to make the AL All-Star team since catcher Andy Etchebarren in 1966, and perhaps the least likely player, period, invited to Progressive Field this season.

A former 11th-round round pick and never a highly-rated prospect, Means snuck onto Baltimore’s Opening Day roster to even his own surprise, admitting he arrived at camp expecting to be one of its first cuts. He’s instead proven indispensable, going 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA over 18 games, appearing in middle, long and back-end relief as well as the rotation. The rest of the Orioles' rotation is 13-39 with a 6.06 ERA.

“You can understand why he’s had success,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Really good fastball/changeup combination and we didn’t get much going.”

Wednesday, the rookie southpaw fell victim to Michael Brosseau’s first career tater (an “end-of-the-bat reach-out homer that somehow goes out,” in Hyde’s words), Avisail Garcia’s game-tying bloop single and little more. The only other run Means allowed was unearned, courtesy of Rio Ruiz’s throwing error in the third. Ruiz more than made up for the snafu a half-inning later, cranking a go-ahead three-run homer off Austin Pruitt in the top of the fourth.

But the Orioles managed just one hit over the next four frames. Chance Sisco helped keep it tied, twice nabbing runners attempting to steal a night after Tampa Bay swiped three off the second-year backstop. One of Sisco’s best defensive games in the Majors helped set the stage for Baltimore's outburst in the ninth, sending Means to the shores of Lake Erie on a high note.

“John Means is a really good pitcher,” Hyde said. “And proving it.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.