SEATTLE – Given what has transpired in the first 31 days of the Seattle Mariners’ 2021 season, the stretches of weak contact and scoreless innings, the strikeouts upon strikeouts from the bottom of the batting order, suffering defeat in the most frustrating way possible – being held hitless – wasn’t so much a distinct possibility at some point, but an obvious inevitability.
For the sixth time since the franchise came into existence in 1977, the Mariners were on the receiving end of a no-hitter.
John Means, a 28-year-old lefty and the best pitcher on a young and rebuilding team, became the first Orioles starting pitcher to toss a complete-game no-hitter since Hall of Famer Jim Palmer no-hit the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 13, 1969, at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Means was in complete control during a 6-0 Orioles win at T-Mobile Park.
It was the 10th no-hitter in Orioles franchise history. Baltimore had four pitchers combine for a no-hitter on July 13, 1991, also vs. the A’s in Oakland.
The last time the Mariners were no-hit was on Aug. 3, 2019, in Houston when four pitchers combined for a no-hitter. It was the second time that season Seattle was no-hit by a combination of pitchers. The other came three weeks earlier on July 12 at Angels Stadium.
“Certainly not the way we wanted to end the homestand,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And we didn’t hit a ton of balls hard, quite frankly. There just wasn’t much out there. It was a lot of soft pop-ups and stuff in the air and that’s what Means does, he just got that ride on his fastball, and he gets you off-balance.”
Means missed the holy grail of pitching – a perfect game – by just one sharp-breaking curveball in the dirt. On a 1-2 count, he appeared to have struck out Sam Haggerty swinging in the third inning, but the ball bounced between the legs of catcher Pedro Severino, who couldn’t collapse and block the ball quickly enough. It rolled to the backstop, allowing Haggerty to scamper to first base. He wasn’t on base long getting thrown at second on a stolen-base attempt moments later.
But that one base runner off of a strikeout and wild pitch disrupted perfection.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Means became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter that had no walks, no hit batters and no errors but wasn’t considered a perfect game.
It was a small, but costly blemish on an otherwise absolutely dominant performance. The lefty changed speeds, hit spots and had minimal hard contact. Seattle had two balls with exit velocities at 95 mph, which is considered a hard-hit ball. Means struck out a career-high 12 batters without issuing a walk over nine innings, also a career high. Of his 113 pitches thrown, he had swings and misses on 26 of his 79 strikes.
But his most impressive statistic – besides not allowing a hit – was throwing first-pitch strikes to 26 of the 27 batters he faced.
“He was awesome today, there’s no question about it,” Kyle Seager said. “He was ahead of us all day. We were behind in pretty much every single count. He was spinning it. His fastball has got some good life. He was throwing change-ups for strikes . Lots of swings and misses and just missing balls underneath everything.”
Means came into the ninth inning with 101 pitches thrown. He got Dylan Moore to pop out in foul territory, struck out Haggerty swinging and got J.P. Crawford to line out weakly to shortstop.
Teammates rushed the field to celebrate while the crowd of 6,742 applauded begrudgingly and then appreciatively at his performance. As for the M’s, a few players stood on the rail to watch the celebration. But most headed for the clubhouse to prepare for a long flight to Texas.
“He was in control all day and I don’t think we had any balls that were even close to being hits,” Seager said.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Mariners entered the game with the second-worst batting average (.207) and on-base percentage (.287) and third-worst on-base plus slugging percentage (.656) in all of MLB.
Unlike Phillip Humber, who tossed a perfect game against Seattle on April 21, 2012, for the White Sox – the last time the Mariners were no-hit at home – and was never heard from again, this wasn’t some one-off level performance for Means.
“This isn’t a fluke thing,” Seager said.
In seven starts this season, Means is 4-0 with 1.37 ERA. In 46 innings, he’s struck out 50 batters and walked 10 while holding opponents to a .135 batting average.
“Means is probably, numbers-wise, ERA-wise, one of the top pitchers in our league and we saw it today,” Servais said. “He absolutely dominated the zone.”
And while baseball’s overall numbers continue to trend downward to levels not seen in the modern era, this Mariners’ offense has been a frustrating disappointment on almost every level.
It’s so bad that calling up young prospect Jarred Kelenic or even six Kelenics would solve these problems. It also makes you wonder how close this team, which is supposedly in the final stages of a rebuild, is to legitimately contending for a postseason spot in the near future. Can Kelenic, who has never had a MLB at-bat, and perhaps the signing of at least one free agent fix what seems broken particularly with Kyle Seager not expected to be back in 2022 and Mitch Haniger’s future with the team far from certain?
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