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With No-Hitter, John Means opens up a world of possibilities

Throwing a no-hitter, you might say, is like lassoing the moon. You can see the distant glow, wave and tease all at the same time. Can you really do it? Probably not. But you can dream.

On August 13, 1969, in Oakland, Jim Palmer took a giant leap forward for the Baltimore Orioles with nine clean innings against the Athletics. It was the same day that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins walked up Broadway and Michigan Avenue for TTY parades in New York and Chicago, followed by a state dinner with President Richard M. Nixon in Los Angeles.

Palmer, now 75, has of course never been to the moon. But the non-hitter has expanded his universe in a way no other Oriole had known before Wednesday, when John Means became Baltimore’s first pitcher since Palmer to pitch a game without a hitting. Means overpowered the Mariners, 6-0, with 12 strikeouts and no walk in Seattle.

Four Orioles combined for a smooth hit in 1991, but going the distance made Means stand out. It was his 44th career start and the first to pass the seventh inning. His working days will never be the same.

“Start a no-hitter – and start a no-hitter with a full set now, because they’re so rare – it’s kind of like a hole in one, ”Palmer said by phone Wednesday night. “It’s funny, when you’re a good golfer, you look at a par 3, you want to get on the green, you want to birdie. And then you make a hole-in-one, and for the rest of your life, every time you play a ball on a par-3, you don’t think about birdies – you think about the possibility of, “You know what? I could have a hole in one.

“So for the modern day pitcher, if you’re John Means, you’ve never pitched a full game. You’ve never pitched a batter without a hit, not one-stroke, or two or three, because you’ve never pitched nine innings. So now, every time he takes the ball, he’s well aware – because he did – that he could throw a smooth, he could throw a full play. There is a litany of things now, all of a sudden, coming into play.

Palmer’s journey led to three Cy Young Awards, a Hall of Fame spot, and a long career as an Orioles broadcaster. He wasn’t working Wednesday’s game, but he closely followed Means’ rise from an 11th round pick in 2014 to an unlikely place on the opening roster five years later.

“I sat with him in his locker in 2019 and he said, ‘You know, I wasn’t one of the most touted true prospects out there so I could always fly under the radar,” Palmer said. . “Until he made the club – and it all started that first weekend. He pitched three or four innings in relief at Yankee Stadium against their A lineup, and they didn’t stand a chance. I think he threw a suspended change and Gary Sanchez hit a solo home run. That was it.”

Means, 28, hasn’t suspended many changes since. He made the All-Star Game that summer and was a finalist for the American League Rookie of the Year award, going 12-11 with a points earned average of 3.60. This season he’s 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA

Last season, however, was heartbreaking: Means lost his father, Alan, to pancreatic cancer in August. On Wednesday, as he prepared to secure the no-hitter, Means thought of his father.

“I looked in my glove just before going out for the ninth, it had his initials on it, and I was like, ‘He doesn’t care, he’s just glad I’m having a good time,’ ‘Means says . “The accolades and everything that has been the case never mattered to him.”

Even so, Means said, it took a moment for him to pull himself together against Dylan Moore, the first hitter in the ninth.

“I have a bit of Jell-O’s legs, I started to feel a bit wobbly,” he said. “But once I threw that first pitch I was able to lock myself in again.”

Moore came out on third base in foul territory. Then Sam Haggerty pulled out a change, the weapon Means learned from pitching coach Chris Holt in spring 2019 training, the Splitter that propelled him to the majors for good.

Means threw another pitch, his 113th, and JP Crawford hit him softly on a line to stop Ramon Urias, ending the game. Means had faced the 27 batting minimum and pitched 26 strokes on the first pitch. The only hitter to hit base was Haggerty in the third inning, on a brittle third base ball that passed catcher Pedro Severino. Haggerty was the first to score without throwing, but was later caught stealing.

It was the third hitting run of nine innings of the 2021 season – following those of Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox in April – but Means’ performance was unique in the history of the game. Modern Baseball: Never before had a pitcher faced only 27 batters in a nine innings without a hitting, the only runner reaching base on a strikeout / wild pitch.

Only twice before had a pitcher failed to pitch a perfect game despite the 27 batting minimum, while not allowing any hits or steps. It happened in 1960 to Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves, who hit a batter, and in 1990 to Terry Mulholland of the Philadelphia Phillies, who allowed a batter to reach base on an error. Both runners were wiped out on double plays.

Severino said he felt “very bad” to let the ball pass, although he recovered by catching Haggerty in second place, much like 1990 Phillies third baseman Charlie Hayes, who made up for his mistake by rushing to launch an ocean liner. and seal Mulholland’s non-hitter.

In any case, Means was hardly disappointed to miss a perfect game, which no pitcher has made since Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in August 2012. Means said he always wanted to throw a smooth but that he never thought he could even reach the majors. . As a boy, he said, he would write “MLB player” when asked about his life goals in school, but he thought that sounded unrealistic.

“I was never that kid who had a ton of self-confidence,” Means said.

Then he learned about the change and started to settle down. On Wednesday, he explored the outer limits of his talent, launching himself into a country no Orioles launcher had visited since the largest of them, more than half a century ago.

“It’s been such a whirlwind of an experience, and I don’t think I’ve been able to process it yet,” Means said. “But to be on the same breath as Palmer, I don’t think it gets much better than this.”

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