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Means (12 K's) ties O's record, sets own mark

@JoeTrezz
September 20, 2020

This season may have started out shaky for Orioles ace John Means. But he’s finishing it with a flourish. Means enjoyed the most dominant afternoon of his career in leading Baltimore to its 2-1 win over the Rays on Sunday, using a career-high 12 strikeouts to help snap the club's

This season may have started out shaky for Orioles ace John Means. But he’s finishing it with a flourish.

Means enjoyed the most dominant afternoon of his career in leading Baltimore to its 2-1 win over the Rays on Sunday, using a career-high 12 strikeouts to help snap the club's four-game losing streak. The effort came as part of a team-wide clinic on the mound by the Orioles, who challenged the club's single-game record for strikeouts in their 2020 home finale.

Box score

“John was dominating today, and that was awesome to watch,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That was one of the better performances I’ve seen from him here in a year-plus.”

Staked to an early two-run lead, Means recorded all but five outs via strikeout across 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, including seven consecutive between the first and third innings. Baltimore pitching struck out 16 in total, one off the club record set on Sept. 18, 1968.

It had been almost 19 years since an Oriole struck out six consecutive hitters, since John Wasdin on Sept. 30, 2001, before Keegan Akin accomplished the feat on Wednesday against the Braves. It only took four days for Means to match it and go a step further, tying the club record of seven straight held by Sammy Stewart since Sept. 1, 1978. Means also became the first Oriole to strike out at least 12 in a game since Dylan Bundy on May 24, 2018, and the first to do so without walking a batter since Erik Bedard on July 7, 2007.

Bedard punched out 15 Rangers that day to claim a share of the O’s single-game record with Mike Mussina.

“I think I got away from myself in August, so to get back to pitching like myself is a good sign,” said Means, who lowered his ERA from 8.59 to 5.02 over his last four starts. “I just had the fastball going today -- my good fastball -- and it was riding pretty well.”

The key Sunday was that pitch, which Means struggled to find consistency with despite increased velocity for much of his disjointed 2020 season. He deployed it with precision on Sunday, throwing 47 of 65 heaters for strikes and getting nine of 12 third strikes on his fastball. One other came via the slider and two on his new, improving curve, including one he used to win a 13-pitch battle with Kevan Smith in the fourth.

“I think earlier in the year I would’ve gotten frustrated with myself over that, but being in the mindset I’m in now, I am able to keep on going, keep flowing,” Means said. “I was pitching angry when I couldn’t locate as well as I would hope, and that’s just not me. I can’t pitch like that. I’ve been staying more relaxed.”

Means’ nine strikeouts on four-seamers were the most by an O’s pitcher since Chris Tillman had nine on Aug. 9, 2013. The only Baltimore pitcher with more in a game since the start of pitch tracking in 2008 was Wei-Yin Chen, who compiled 11 on July 29, 2012. Dillon Tate and Hunter Harvey punched out two each across two innings of scoreless relief in front of Cesar Valdez’s second save to bring Baltimore’s strikeout total on Sunday to 16 against zero walks.

Put together, it was the kind of team-wide pitching performance that last year would’ve felt impossible. And it spoke to several key developments as the O’s head into the season’s final week, from Means’ heightening ceiling to Harvey’s health and Tate’s emergence as an effective setup option. The progress on the pitching side is plain to see overall, especially since the arrivals of prospects Akin and Dean Kremer in recent weeks. Even as the O's were losing seven of their last 10, Baltimore pitching allowed just 3.1 runs per game during that stretch.

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