Orioles bit by sixth-inning bug again

Means throws five no-hit frames before surrendering lead

August 20th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- For five innings, it seemed like all it took to reverse John Means' second-half struggles was a little slice of home. Not Camden Yards, where the Orioles dropped their eighth straight game in a 5-4 loss, but the Royals, whom Means grew up rooting for as a kid in eastern Kansas, and whom the rookie southpaw spent a good chunk of Monday evening dazzling against.

Facing his boyhood team for the first time in his career, Means held the Royals hitless through five frames before things turned considerably in the sixth, due to factors largely out of his control. After retiring 15 of his first 16 batters, six straight reached to chase Means in the sixth, which ultimately saddled him with his fourth straight defeat.

“He was throwing the ball great,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “But unfortunately, things kind of unraveled for us again.”

The culprit? One critical error and four singles, three with an expected batting average of .190 or lower. The most critical hit was also, statistically, the softest according to Statcast. Hunter Dozier plopped his 79.4 mph go-ahead two-run single just beyond the outstretched glove of in left.

“If we don’t make a play in the middle we need to make, it changes the whole inning,” Hyde said. “He’s a fastball-changeup guy, so there are going to be foul balls. There are going to be end-of-the-bat base hits. Tonight, just a couple ground balls got through that hurt him.”

Asked if he thought he fell victim to bad batted-ball luck, Means noted, “Luck doesn’t happen if you strike people out.”

“If I was locating where I wanted to, I could’ve gotten through it,” Means said. “We’ve been working on a lot of stuff in between outings, trying to figure out what works best for me. I thought the first five innings, I was doing exactly what I was working on. My pitches were doing what they were supposed to. I was locating when I was supposed to. Then in the sixth, I started to trend back into what I was doing wrong.”

All told, it was the second straight nightmare sixth inning for the O's, who watched their one-run lead turn into a two-run deficit, suffered through more sloppiness in the field and on the bases and later inched perilously close to the all-time single season record for home runs allowed.

The Orioles now sit one behind the 2016 Reds’ total of 258 homers surrendered after Nicky Lopez and Nick Dini hit back-to-back solo homers off in the seventh, stretching Kansas City’s lead to 5-2. The O's didn’t do themselves any favors by running into two outs at third base on the same play in the bottom of the sixth, or stranding the bases loaded in the seventh.

But by then, the damage had been done. Those chances proved important when ’s two-out solo homer off Ian Kennedy brought the Orioles within one in the ninth.

The end result was Baltimore's eighth consecutive defeat, the club’s second streak of at least that length this season. The latest dropped Means to 1-5 with a 7.48 ERA over six second half-starts. The O's All-Star went 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 games (14 starts) before the break.

“He’d had a few rough starts in a row, so to see him tonight dominate through five innings was fantastic to see,” Hyde said. “We were hoping he could go as long as possible. Just couldn’t get through that sixth.”