On Friday afternoon, the newly crowned American League East champions filtered into the clubhouse with sunglasses on and hats pulled down as far they could go. Some grasped Pedialyte bottles. Others held on to coffees after a night of champagne popping and beer pouring.
The hard work has already been done. The playoff berth has been secured, the division clinched. The objective for the rest of the regular season is simple: stay healthy. They accomplished that — the two players scratched for being “under the weather” perhaps just in need of some extra electrolytes — in their 3-0 loss to the Red Sox on Friday.
There are side quests too, of course. John Means made just his fourth start after 17 months away from the mound, Tommy John surgery and a back injury sidelining him for most of the last two seasons. He wasn’t as dominant as his last time out — when he he carried a no-hitter into the seventh and pitched into the eighth.
Means, though, still proved he’s more than ready to take on a playoff game. He allowed just three hits, the Red Sox scoring their only two runs against him in the fifth on a home run from Trevor Story.
His next outing will come in October. Even though he’s only been back for four starts, he said he still feels more than ready for postseason baseball.
“I feel like the command is there,” Means said. “I made a mistake tonight and a mistake last time, but other than that I feel like 99% of my pitches are where I wanted.”
The Orioles’ offense, well, didn’t quite have the energy to match Boston starter Nick Pivetta. They had just two hits against him in seven innings and only three total, unable to get much of anything going.
“I think it was a big night for us last night,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We didn’t play our best baseball today. Those things happen. Hopefully we’ll rebound and play better tomorrow.”
But this is exactly what this period is for. They fought through the regular season — including a 17-day stretch without a day off this month — and won their title early enough that they earned this break. With two games remaining, the Orioles will continue to rest their starters so they are fresh for the American League Division Series, which will start Oct. 7. They will give Kyle Gibson one more start Saturday, then pull together something for Sunday.
This stretch, though, is also a chance for a player like Heston Kjerstad to try to fight his way onto the postseason roster. The Orioles can carry only 26 for the playoffs, and right now Kjerstad is on the brink of being left off. Friday was his first start in right field, the Orioles wanting to see if his defensive work has improved enough to give him a spot come October. He fared fine there but had no real challenges either, making four outs.