CLEVELAND — John Means was on his way.
He was rolling through his innings, executing pitches and keeping his count low. He knew a no-hitter was a possibility, he’s been there before after all, but he was trying not to let the thought cross his mind.
A poorly placed seventh-inning changeup ended that. Andrés Giménez broke up the no-hit bid with a solo homer, the only run and only hit the Orioles would allow in their 2-1 win over the Guardians on Saturday.
Still, this game — 7 1/3 innings allowing just one run in his third start back from Tommy John surgery — was a feat of its own, for Means and the team. The Orioles desperately needed this, a night of no frills when their starter went a respectable amount of innings, their offense produced enough runs and their bullpen didn’t cause additional stress.
The Orioles, who snapped a three-game losing streak, are one day away from their first off day since Sept. 7. Their magic number to win the AL East is down to five.
“John was exactly what we needed tonight,” catcher James McCann said. “Our bullpen has been stepping up huge for us all season long and they needed a break, and that’s exactly what John did.”
Means has been in this position before, throwing a no-hitter in 2021 against the Mariners. But much has changed over the past two years.
Eleven months after that career milestone, Means had reconstructive elbow surgery. That, coupled with a back strain, sidelined him for 17 months. When he hit the injured list in April 2022, the Orioles were in last place in the AL East. Now, they are heading to the postseason for the first time since 2016 and potentially days away from clinching the division. And Means has a chance to be a part of it.
Means returned just in time for the stretch run. He made his first start Sept. 12, allowing three runs in five innings. He followed with one run in five innings Sept. 18. Overall, he was happy to be back but still discouraged with where his breaking ball was.
On Saturday, though, Means flowed seamlessly through the game, needing just 19 pitches to get through the first two innings. He stayed calm after he walked Myles Straw in the third and didn’t allow another runner until the fifth, when he hit Gabriel Arias.
Means entered the seventh inning, no-hitter intact, at 82 pitches. He wasn’t as nervous as he was in his no-hitter two years ago, and he was willing to go as far as his skipper would allow. The most he had thrown in his first two starts was 86, and the Orioles have a postseason to think about and a reconstructed arm to protect.
Means retired Josh Naylor and Ramón Laureano to open the seventh, but Giménez got on top of Means’ changeup and barreled it to left field.
“Of course it was a homer; that’s what I was thinking,” Means said. “Of course it’s a run in a close game. Obviously if you give up the first hit you hope it’s a single.”
It seemed like Means’ day was done, seven innings a feat of its own. But he came trotting back out for the eighth, his day ending after getting Jose Tena, the first batter of the inning, to ground out.
Means handed the ball to Hyde, head down as he walked back to the dugout. He looked up only briefly, acknowledging the smattering of Orioles fans in attendance, before heading down to a avalanche of hugs from his teammates.
After the inning ended, with Yennier Cano getting the last two outs, McCann went straight to find his pitcher. The two didn’t talk about the possibility of a no-hitter, rather just exchanging knowing smiles.
“He’s had one and I’ve had a couple, and I think we both knew we had a shot at another one,” McCann said.
The Orioles needed a win. And Means, their most reliable pitcher during the darkest years of their rebuild, was the one who got it for them.