Anytime there’s reason to invoke the name of Baltimore’s Hall of Fame pitching great in a baseball column, it’s a good day at work.
Wednesday was, however, a bad day at T-ball Park for the Seattle Area Codes — as the game progressed, they were hitting a collective .206 for the season.
The home team, a k a Mariners, settled in at .201, second-worst in MLB, after they were crushed by a no-hitter (and in all but the scorekeeper’s book, a perfect game) from the profoundly unheralded John Means.
In the 6-0 win (box), Means became the first Baltimore Orioles pitcher since the profoundly heralded Palmer in 1969 to throw an individual no-hitter.
With just 43 previous career starts, including six this season, it’s a magnum stretch to draw an analogy from the 28-year-old lefty to Palmer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star from 1965 to 1984, all with the O’s.
John Means is the first Orioles pitcher to throw an individual no-hitter since Jim Palmer in 1969.
That snaps the longest active streak without an individual no-hitter among current franchises.
Baltimore threw a combined no-hitter in 1991. pic.twitter.com/MTNU010iI4
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2021
But a similar cosmic gulf could be invoked regarding the Mariners offense compared to a major league team.
At .201, they are virtually at the Mendoza Line as a unit.
Longtime baseball fans hereabouts know that among the Mariners’ few contributions to national baseball culture was the naming of the nadir of single-season individual offensive futility.
In 1979, Seattle 3B Mario Mendoza hit .198 for the season in 401 plate appearances, which means he had to be an excellent glove man.
Similarly, the Mariners must have a stout pitching staff to have a 17-15 record with an offense that is Mendoza to the ninth power.
“We’re not swinging the best right now,” said manager Scott Servais, understating by several fathoms. “We got to get it going offensively. We know that we will. I’m confident in our guys, but we’re one of those stretches right now, and then when you run up against the hot pitcher like that . . .
“He just dominated us today.”
Indeed, Means threw first strikes to 26 of the 27 Seattle employees authorized to swing at them. How they were so reluctant/ineffective was remarkable. Means’ fastest pitch was 95 MPH, meaning the hitters were not overwhelmed. They were just baffled.
The only way Means was denied a perfect game was when C Pedro Severino failed in the third inning to catch a swinging third strike by Mariners LF Sam Haggerty, who beat the subsequent throw to first. That little burp, scored a wild pitch, was made more innocuous when Haggerty was erased at second attempting to steal.
“Yeah, right now it doesn’t matter at all, to be honest with you,” Means told ESPN during a post-game TV interview. “I was just happy I made a good pitch. I was struggling with the curve ball recently, so I was just happy I got it over and got a swing and miss on it.
“I was just trying to keep my cool with him on first base. I’m glad Sevy made up for it by getting him out at second.”
No Mariner thereafter came very close to a hit, making for a freakish never-before note: According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was MLB’s first no-hitter that had no walks, hit batters nor errors, but was not a perfect game.
That was the extent of the Mariners’ fig leaf.
“We didn’t hit a ton of balls hard, quite frankly,” Servais said. “There just wasn’t much out there. It was a lot of soft pop-ups and stuff in the air. That’s what Means does. He just got that ride on his fastball, and he gets you off-balance.”
It was the sixth time in club history the Mariners endured no hits, the first time since 2019, when it happened twice, the Astros and Angels each using multiple pitchers to get it done.
Means needed no help, despite the fact that, at 113 pitches, it was the first complete game of his major league career. It included no walks and a career-high 12 strikeouts, improving his record to 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA. He’s struck out 50 in 46 innings.
Despite his relatively brief time in the bigs, Means, a Kansas native chosen by Baltimore in the 11th round of the 2014 draft out of West Virginia University, is growing into a formidable major leaguer.
“We ran up against a really hot pitcher,” Servais said. “Means is probably, numbers-wise, ERA-wise, one of the top pitchers in our league and we saw it today. He absolutely dominated the zone.”
No such plaudits were available for the Mariners’ offense, which wasted a good outing from their starter, Yusei Kikuchi (three runs in seven innings, seven strikeouts, one walk).
The Mariners have four starters hitting under .190 (Evan White .141, Dylan Moore .129, Tom Murphy .140 and Kyle Lewis .184), and as a team have the sixth-most strikeouts in MLB.
It’s understood that this is year three of The Throwaway Times, that the farm system bristles with top-tier prospects, and that Tuesday was the 14th game in 14 days.
So I’m confident the Mariners understand why referencing Jim Palmer and Mario Mendoza in the same column constitutes a good day.