In Their Own Words: Means Makes History
Wednesday, May 5, 2021, was already going to be a busy day for the Baltimore Orioles and the team’s traveling party. It was the final day of a six-game road trip to the west coast, which featured a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum, followed by a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. The team had a five-and-a-half hour cross-country flight ahead of them, and an off-day to look forward to.
The Orioles began the trip with their third series win of the year, coming against the red-hot Athletics, and had their sights set on maintaining the momentum as their road trip continued to the Pacific Northwest.
Offensively, the Birds’ bats were hot, with Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, and Pedro Severino leading the way. From the mound, left-handed pitcher John Means, the ace of the team, was a dominant force throughout Major League Baseball.
On May 5, Means was making his team-leading seventh start of the season. His 0.84 WHIP ranked as the second-best in the American League, and his 1.70 ERA (7 ER/37.0 IP) and .163 (21-for-129) opponent batting average ranked third-best. With those stats, there was never a doubt that Means would provide a solid outing for the O’s, but no one could have predicted just how solid.
Means got things started with a 1-2-3 first inning: two strikeouts and a groundout. In the bottom of the second, the Orioles provided their ace with some run support, scoring a pair of runs courtesy of singles from right fielder DJ Stewart and shortstop Ramón Urías. In the third inning, Seattle’s Sam Haggerty reached base on a passed ball strikeout, but was quickly thrown out by catcher Pedro Severino as he was attempting to steal second.
Kevin Buck, Director of Baseball Administration: “In the third inning, he had thrown so few pitches and there were no hits on the board. I thought to myself “when is too early to think about this?” Then after the fifth inning and the pitch count was still low, I was really starting to see how dominant the outing was and that if I would ever see [a no hitter], this was a great shot.”
Tyler Wells, relief pitcher: “Isaac Mattson actually had a good streak as a rookie for his first few games in the big leagues. His first lock in of a home run was Freddy Galvis – next pitch, he hits a home run. He called it, I think in the second or third inning, he said: ‘Means is feeling it today.’”
John Means, starting pitcher: “I honestly didn’t feel very good before the game. I remember sitting in the bullpen before the game – I got out there a little earlier than I usually do. I was sitting in the bullpen looking out, and had my head down between my knees – I kind of felt like I was going to throw up. I don’t know, something felt different. My body hurt, I had a headache, I felt sick. I was sitting there, and I was just like ‘Man, I hope I can get through five innings.’ And after that first pitch, I just seemed to lock in. it just seems to happen like that sometimes.”
Aside from the coaches and players, there is a ‘team behind the team.’ This consists of various people that support the team on a daily basis. From strength and conditioning coaches, public relations staff, clubhouse attendants, and video scouts among others, the Traveling Party becomes an extension of the team, grinding through all 162 games with the players and coaches. Scattered throughout the ballpark, the staff that was in attendance will never forget where they were during this iconic day.
Brian Ebel, Head Athletic Trainer: “I watched the entire game from the Orioles dugout at T-Mobile Park.”
Kevin Buck: “[I was in] a booth on the press level – right behind the plate. I watched there with Sig Mejdal and Adam Esselman, [Manager of Baseball Communications].”
Sig Mejdal, Vice President & Assistant General Manager, Analytics: “We were high up in the stadium. A bit removed from the energy. The first no-hitter that I haven’t been in the crowd with the noise and excitement.”
Although a perfect game was no longer in reach, Means cruised through the fourth and fifth innings, maintaining his no-hit bid with tremendous support from his catcher and defenders behind him. In the sixth inning, centerfielder Cedric Mullins made a sliding catch on a hit from J.P. Crawford to preserve the no hitter. In the seventh inning, Means notched his eighth and ninth strikeouts of the game, the latter which tied his season-high, done twice already in his first seven starts of the year.
Simply put: Means was dominating.
Brian Ebel: “I’ve seen a lot of games where pitchers make it through the lineup at least one time without giving up a hit or even into the fourth inning, but this game just felt a little different. John kept cruising through the order and after the fifth inning, I really started thinking about it being a possibility. It was fun to watch.”
Adam Esselman, Manager of Baseball Communications: “I’d say it first started to hit me around the fifth or sixth inning, when I started getting a couple texts from broadcasters and media double checking if it was still considered a perfect game or not – as MLB.com’s tracker at the time had it as one, incorrectly. Then I realized, hey, this thing does have a chance.”
Sig Mejdal: “After the last out in the sixth, then it is one more time through the lineup. There is something seemingly more manageable about that.”
Trey Mancini, infielder: “I’d say after the fourth inning, I realized he was absolutely rolling. Means always pitches really well obviously, and something just seemed even better that day. For some reason, it hit me – if it’s going to happen, it’s today. So that’s when it first crossed my mind. Then during the sixth inning is when I started getting nervous and getting butterflies.”
Tim Cossins, Major League Field Coordinator/Catching Instructor: “I just remember thinking ‘There’s the play.” There’s usually always one defensive play that stands out. I remember seeing that and thinking ‘Okay, there’s something going on here.’ The pitch count I thought was favorable, and then that’s when I started thinking this could happen.”
Ben Sussman-Hyde, Coordinator of Major League Video and Advance Scouting: “It was never really in doubt. There weren’t many plays that were tough. This guy is just pitching a no hitter.”
Joe Hogarty, Strength and Conditioning Coach: “I think it was the body language that Meansy was portraying. He’s always a fast worker and is go go go, so when they would pan on the television to him sitting on the bench, nobody around him, stoic, he was in that mindset that this could happen.”
John Means: “I think I didn’t know until it was the sixth. When you pitch away, they definitely let you know from the stands if you have a no hitter or not. I finally figured that out. In the dugout I tried to just keep my calm, keep my focus, not worry about it too much, and stay loose.”
Historically, baseball is a superstitious sport. Don’t step on the baselines. Eat the same pregame meal. So when something really good is happening, don’t mention it, don’t discuss it. You can only think about it and exchange glances with others. Some people formed superstitions as the game progressed, and some avoided doing things that they normally would.
John Means: “Superstitions have kind of gotten in my way in my baseball career. So, I tried to stay away from those. Every time I was coming in the dugout, though, the batboy was sitting in my seat. He told me at the end of the game – I had no idea, but it was because he wanted to keep it warm. He was doing that every single inning. He was doing a superstition for me.”
Brian Ebel: “I usually move around the dugout a lot during games, and even have multiple things going on inside most days, but on this day, I locked into my same seat and only moved from it if someone needed me for something. I check on pitchers during games too when needed, but during this game not only did I not talk to John, I wouldn’t even look at him in the dugout!”
Tyler Wells: “We sit there, and we just don’t say anything – we don’t talk about it. We don’t say it. We just let the world happen, and it happened.”
Sig Mejdal: “Superstitions? Nah. They enter my head, but that’s it. Different drinks, different postures and locations to watch. Hoping that didn’t put it at risk.”
Pedro Severino, catcher: “When I'm on the bench, I just think about my offense, and when I’m on defense, all my offense goes away. So, when I figured out we had no hitter in the seventh, I just said to myself, “Okay, I’m going 0-for-4 or 0-for-5, it doesn’t matter, let’s just try and complete this no hitter.’”
Tim Cossins: “There were several times that I skipped going down and getting a bottle of water because I saw him down there. My whole thought process was all based around superstitions – I had to stay in the same spot.”
Trey Mancini: “I didn’t form superstitions, but I was the designated hitter so I was having a really hard time sitting still. During the sixth inning, I remember I went in the locker room and watched the game on the TV with the taxi squad guys. I drank a sparkling water every inning. They had Bubbly in the locker room, and I think five different flavors – and I had one of each flavor throughout the game.”
PT Thomas, Clubhouse Attendant: “I wanted to make my way down towards the dugout in the later innings to watch a little bit in-person, but I thought to myself, ‘Nah, I can’t be the reason he doesn’t finish this.’”
Ryo Naito, Strength and Conditioning Coach: “I was watching the game but also doing computer work. I was trying to stay at that same seat and same place the whole time.”
Freddy Galvis, infielder: “I didn’t talk to him in the beginning. I tried to stay in the same spot. I didn’t try to think too much. Keep it quiet and try not to show too many emotions when they made outs.”
As history inched closer, the butterflies were flying and the anticipation was palpable. The Birds’ bats added one more run of support in the seventh and three more in the eighth to have a comfortable 6-0 lead.
Those in the dugout, in the clubhouse, or on the couch at home watched with hope and excitement. Staff reluctantly moved locations to prepare for the potential, and the skipper had to create a contingency plan for the ‘just in case.’
Brandon Hyde, Manager: “My stomach was turning from the eighth on. A lot of things are going through your head. Obviously, the defensive positioning. Do I have to defend for anybody? Who am I going to use? Where’s his pitch count? There’s a lot of things going through your head. I was just pulling for the guy. I had Dillon Tate warming up while we were hitting in the ninth. I didn’t want anybody up while he was pitching in the bottom of the ninth, so how we do that, how quickly I can get Tate in the game if he gives up a hit. He’s going to throw more pitches than I’m comfortable with after a hit. I really wanted us to get three quick outs in the top of the ninth, to be honest with you. I wanted to get it going.”
Dillon Tate, relief pitcher: “For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I was going to throw that day. They told me to warm up in the eighth or ninth and at that point I said, ‘He’s got it.’”
PT Thomas: “You’re watching the game so intently. Excitement is building as the game goes on, and everyone starts giving each other that look with wide eyes like: ‘Is this really gonna happen?’ without obviously actually saying it. At the same time, you need to be prepared to celebrate if it does happen, but you don’t want to really make a scene of it and become the jinx. There’s a chance everything can go out the window with one pitch and it was all for nothing. Around the eighth inning we procured some champagne with the help of the Mariners’ visiting clubhouse manager so we would be ready if it happened.”
After three final outs, it happened: John Means had thrown a no-hitter.
The sixth no-hitter, fourth individual, in Orioles history (since 1954) – the first since National Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Palmer did so on August 13, 1969. Means became the first lefty to throw an individual no-hitter in Orioles history, and it snapped the longest active drought by a team without an individual no-hitter among current franchises.
With a final stat line of 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 Ks, Means became the first pitcher in Major League history to throw a non-perfect no-hitter in which the there was not a walk, hit by pitch, or an error. He became the eighth pitcher in MLB (since 1901) with a 9.0-inning complete game, allowing no hits or walks and striking out at least 12 batters in a start.
The work by Means and Severino was truly electric, magical, incredible – you name it. But above all else, it was a team effort from behind-the-scenes to on the field, and a celebration for all.
John Means: “I looked at my glove right before I went out there for the ninth, it has my dad’s initials on it. I said to myself that he wouldn’t care, he was just glad that I was having a good time. The accolades and everything like that never mattered to him. But it was pretty special and I know he’d be proud.”
Brandon Hyde: “I can’t put into words the last three outs. Seeing how teammates embraced him and our clubhouse after the game, it was like we clinched a playoff spot. It was just so cool with how everybody loved him.”
Brian Ebel: “Electric. To me, it felt almost like a playoff atmosphere postgame.”
Tyler Wells: “Just pure ecstasy. It’s really hard to put into words how happy everyone was. To be able to be a part of the celebration itself, and to share that memory with so many guys, it’s really indescribable to feel the same emotions that everyone else is feeling all at once.”
Adam Esselman: “Just true, natural elation. You could just get that feeling that this was such a cool moment for everyone there. A huge accomplishment that was able to be celebrated by all, as that hadn’t happened for the team in a while. Everyone was just hugging each other in the dugout postgame – I even was hugged as I was making my way through to get John for media.”
Tim Cossins: “Surreal – knowing Johnny and knowing what his journey had been, and what’s going on, it was just surreal.”
Trey Mancini: “It was incredible. It was almost like a playoff atmosphere. I’ve only experienced that one time – in 2016, when we clinched the spot in the Wild Card game and at that point, I was only two weeks into my Major League career and it was amazing, but I wasn’t there the whole season and everything like that. This was almost on the same level as that for me. It’s something that rarely happens, and even though it was Means’ individual achievement, as a team we just felt like it was all of our accomplishment, too.”
Bill Wilkes, Manager of Advance Scouting Operations: “I really couldn’t believe he did it. After he accomplished it, it was one of the coolest feelings to see all of the players storm onto the field and congratulate him. It was really exciting.”
Ryan Klimek, Coordinator of Major League Scouting: “I’ll remember going into the dugout after the game and shaking hands with Means and embracing for a moment, and just seeing the looks on everyone’s faces in pure disbelief.”
PT Thomas: “I don’t think you could have wiped a smile off anyone’s face in that locker room after the game.”
Dillon Tate: “It’s something that I will never forget. It’s something that I saw when I was in the minor leagues. But at this magnitude, it’s completely different.”
John Means: “I can’t put it into words, I can’t do it. It’s such a crazy feeling and such a whirlwind of an experience and I don’t think I’ve been able to process it yet. But to be in the same breath as Palmer, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”
The celebration quickly ensued, with hugs, laughter, beer, and probably some tears.
Adam Esselman: “When the celebration turned to the clubhouse, it was just one big party and celebration. Everyone was just so happy for Means, which was really cool to see.”
Kevin Buck: “It was awesome – there were so many players, coaches, and staff all just wanting to explode and let loose when Means finished up his postgame interviews and came in. We all wanted to celebrate for him and take in what it feels like to be part of something that will be an iconic moment in the club’s history.”
Sig Mejdal: “The energy was great to see. Especially from the coaches. They are stoic on TV, but they are dying inside – worse than fans I would say. There was such elation and relief with them as they came in. That is what really stuck with me. Those coaches care so very much.”
Tim Cossins: “I will remember the hug that I gave Johnny. I remember that feeling – there was just something about that energy and that moment. For me, it was all around the father thing. I lost my father too at a young age, so for me that filled up the whole day.”
Tyler Wells: “I’ll always remember the beer shower. Being able to shower a guy with beer after doing something like that, and being able to share it will all of our team – it’s one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.”
John Means: “It was awesome. It’s what it feels like, I’m sure, to make the playoffs or win a World Series. Just the energy and everybody hugging you and going into the clubhouse and they’re just waiting for you – and then to hop in the cart and have everyone shower you with beer. It probably hit me once I got up to the clubhouse.”
The Orioles and Means quickly started trending on social media and throughout sports networks. In addition to the normal postgame media session, Means had to make the rounds on the national level.
Adam Esselman: “I’ve never had more texts and emails in such a short period of time, from all sorts of people, whether it was media hoping to join the postgame Zoom call, producers from ESPN and MLB Network TV/Radio seeking to have Means join them postgame, friends watching/following the game, or colleagues from around the league checking in. John did every media request I threw at him without hesitation, and I truly believe him when he said it hadn’t even set in what he had just accomplished.”
Despite the long trip home and a much-need off day on the horizon, no one was in a hurry to leave or end the celebration of such a special moment.
Kevin Buck: “We pushed the bus time way back to let everyone celebrate postgame before we had to fly home.”
Adam Esselman: “The whole day just felt like a blur. Knowing that it was get away day and that we had a five hour flight after – you couldn’t even tell. Looking back the game felt like it went by so quickly and everything postgame seemed to happen in a flash.”
As everyone boarded the buses and the cross-country flight, what each person witnessed continued to set in.
John Means: “I kind of blacked out there for a while. I really started to realize it once I left the field. There was a sort of calm to it all.”
Brian Ebel: “Incidentally, the last no-hitter I saw live in the big leagues was in 2015 in the same stadium in Seattle (then Safeco Field). Hisashi Iwakuma for the Mariners no-hit us in a similar getaway day game. Needless to say, our charter home from the West Coast this time was much more enjoyable than it was that day in 2015.”
The last few years have been a whirlwind for Means and his family. With good times and bad – and sometimes more bad than good – May 5, 2021, will certainly always be a special day filled with good memories. It was truly the culmination of tremendous strength, faith, work ethic, and support. While the no-hitter will signify a remarkable moment in Orioles history, it also exemplifies perseverance and the importance of never giving up on your dreams, not matter how big or how small.
John Means: “It’s special. It’s pretty crazy, I hope it lets everybody, every kid coming up know that anybody can do it. I was on my way out in the minor leagues and figured out a way to make a living out of this, and hopefully kids coming up, even the ones overlooked, know they have a chance.
“I never thought it would happen, never thought in a million years. I was never that kid who had a ton of confidence in himself and to be able to get to this point, I never really thought I’d be here. I’d always write ‘MLB player’ when I was a kid on the sheet when they asked you what you wanted to do when you’re older, but I never thought it was a reality. And now that it is, now that I’m able to throw this no hitter, it’s crazy and I don’t even know how to describe it. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
As Means said, it might be impossible to put into words, but if there is one to convey the magic of that day, it would be...
Brian Ebel: “Amazing.”
Tyler Wells: “Indescribable.”
Kevin Buck: “Perfect.”
Sig Mejdal: “Masterful.”
Adam Esselman: “Unforgettable.”
Dillon Tate: “Spectacular.”
Brandon Hyde: “Dominant.”
Tim Cossins: “Surreal.”
PT Thomas: “Unbelievable.”
Ryo Naito: “Amazing.”
Joe Hogarty: “Phenomenal.”
Ben Sussman-Hyde: “Dominant.”
Bill Wilkes: “Surreal.”
Ryan Klimek: “Magical.”
Freddy Galvis: “Historic.”
Trey Mancini: “Dominant.”
John Means: “Unbelievable.”