Tonight’s game was a matchup of Corbin Burnes and John Means, both teams’ # 1 pitchers. You might not have expected a game with those starters to come down to a bullpen battle, but that’s what happened. A late comeback from the Orioles was exciting, but it fell apart in the end as the Orioles lost 4-2 and fell to 1-5 on the season.
As for those starting pitchers, Burnes was outstanding but by the time the game ended, his dominance felt like a distant memory. And the Orioles lost a lot more than the game as they also lost Means to a possibly serious injury.
Means pitched four innings tonight and, aside from a rough second inning in which he gave up two runs, was very effective. So when he was pulled after four innings with just 51 pitches thrown, speculation began in the broadcast booth and on social media that he must be hurt. Not long later, the Oriole confirmed: left forearm tightness.
If you’ve paid attention to baseball injuries over the years, that phrase probably left you thinking one thing: Tommy John surgery. That is the worst case scenario and if you’re feeling nervous about it, I do not blame you. If this team loses Means for the rest of this year (and beyond), it will be bad. Just so bad. But I am going to do my best not to panic. Maybe it’s a result of Means not having as long to prepare this season. Maybe it’s something minor. Maybe.
On to the action on the field. The O’s bats were completely flummoxed by Burnes tonight, to say the least. If you’re like me, you know that Burnes is really good but you’ve never actually sat down and watched him pitch a game. Being in the NL Central will do that. There is a difference in knowing a guy’s numbers and seeing him in action, and that was very evident to me tonight.
Burnes is just nasty. Not just the movement on his pitches but also his ability to change speeds. I was struck early on by an at-bat by Austin Hays. First pitch was an 80-mph curveball that Hays took for a strike on the inner half. The next pitch was a 90-mph slider that also came inside on Hays, who swung and missed. Then Burnes threw two pitches at 95 mph (ball, foul), before coming back with the curveball that Hays lunged at and missed for strike three.
That was just a sample of what most of the night was for the Orioles against Burnes. All told, Burnes struck out eight in his seven innings. Just three Orioles got hits off of him: singles from Anthony Bemboom and Anthony Santander and double from Rougned Odor. None of the three hits, nor the walk from Santander, came in the same inning. The Orioles never felt in it while Burnes was on the mound, which is why the two runs the Brewers scored in the second inning felt insurmountable.
After a quick 1-2-3 first inning, Means issued a one-out walk to Keston Hiura. He got a pop up for the second out but then Rowdy Tellez launched a ball to centerfield. Cedric Mullins got on his horse but he just could not get there. This is not a dig on Cedric. That ball was crushed. Hiura came into score, then Tellez scored one batter later on a single from Mike Brosseau.
Means got the third out on a strikeout and went on to pitch perfect third and fourth innings before his previously mentioned exit. As of this writing there is no more information his injury but let’s all keep our fingers crossed. In his postgame interview, Means said he also felt some tightness in his first start but it got better throughout the week until tonight. He told the reporters that he does not feel too concerned. Let’s hope he’s right!
As it has already done several times in this short season, the bullpen was strong … at first. Starting in the fifth inning, we saw a perfect inning from Joey Krehbiel, two scoreless from Dillon Tate, and one from Félix Bautista. That kept the Orioles in the game long enough to get Burnes out and for the Orioles to take advantage.
In the bottom of the eighth, the bats finally got a little something done. Pitcher Devin Williams replaced Burnes and Jorge Mateo greeted him with a single up the middle. Bemboom worked a nine-pitch walk. Way to set the table, bottom of the order!
Mullins struck out, but Ryan Mountcastle gave the team a hit with a RISP! Mountcastle’s single knocked in Mateo and Ryan McKenna, pinch running for Bemboom, motored to third base.
Having a fast runner on base ended up mattering when Trey Mancini hit a fly ball to shallow left-center field. McKenna tagged up and just got home in time to score the tying run.
But, remember when I said the bullpen came through for now? Yeah, things did not go well for closer Jorge López and the top of the ninth inning was kind of a disaster. He gave up a single to Hunter Renfroe and a double to Kolton Wong. Renfroe scored from first and Wong moved up to third on the throw. Just like that, losing again. Tellez smoked another double, knocking in Wong.
After López walked Jace Peterson of all people, his night was done. Paul Fry came in and annoyed us all by walking his first batter, but did get out of the inning with no more runs allowed.
The bottom of the eighth inning and topped of the ninth really slowed down the pace of play. But Josh Hader, closer for the Brewers and guy who went to the same high school as me, sped things up a bit. He did walk the leadoff batter, but retired the next three to end the game.
Orioles lose, 4-2. They have an off day tomorrow before welcoming (?) The Yankees to town for three games over the weekend.