Given what has transpired in the first 31 days of the 2021 season, the stretches of weak contact and scoreless innings, the strikeouts upon strikeouts from the bottom of the batting order, the overall data coming into Wednesday afternoon’s homestand finale that shows the Mariners to have the second-worst batting average (.207), on-base percentage (.287) and third-worst on-base plus slugging percentage (.656) in all of Major League Baseball, well, 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, a 6-0 loss to the Orioles.
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.
It was the 10th no-hitter in Orioles franchise history. Baltimore did have four pitchers combine for one 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 out at second on a stolen base attempt moments later.
But that one base runner off a strikeout and wild pitch was enough to disrupt 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,” said Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. “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 changeups 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 lineout 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 Mariners, 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.
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 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.
“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.”
And yet …
“We’re not swinging the bats great right now,” Servais said of the obvious. “That’s where we’re at. We had a rough homestand. I say all that, and we go 3-3 on this homestand. So there’s still some good things going on. But you know, we struggled offensively.”
How much longer can those struggles continue and the Mariners still find ways to win?
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.
“Guys are missing pitches, balls that you need to put in play,” Servais said. “We’ve been pitched differently by different guys. But the majority of the times that we’re missing pitches, I believe they’re at the top of the strike zone. We’re just not getting on those and getting them in play. And then you’re constantly battling, being behind in counts and in bad counts all the time.”
It’s gotten so bad that calling up young prospect Jarred Kelenic or even six Kelenics wouldn’t solve these problems. And beyond Kelenic and maybe Cal Raleigh, there isn’t much help in Tacoma.
It’s also fair to 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 an MLB at-bat, and perhaps the signing of at least one free agent, fix what seems broken — particularly with Seager not expected to be back in 2022 and Mitch Haniger’s future with the team far from certain?
But in the immediate future, the Mariners will need Ty France to break out of his first slump of the season and hope that players like Dylan Moore, Evan White, Taylor Trammell, Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens prove to be vastly better than they’ve shown in this first month.
“You’ve got a young group, you’ve got a lot of guys that don’t have a lot of experience, there’s only a few guys that even had a full season,” Seager said. “So that plays into it. You have crowds now. Last year, even guys that were playing the whole season, there were no crowds. There’s a completely different energy, when there’s fans. There’s a lot of factors that go into it.
“We have lot of guys that are learning. Obviously, you don’t want to get no-hit. That’s a tough lesson to learn, but it’s part of it.”