BALTIMORE — Pedro Severino dropped his bat and watched the ball sail into the Baltimore night, the weight of an opportunity lost resoundingly slipping off his shoulders. Severino had just hammered an Austin Pruitt fastball to unload the bases, one at-bat removed from rolling over on one of Pruitt’s sliders
Given a chance at redemption, Severino capitalized in style, his first career grand slam sending the Orioles sprinting away to a 7-1 win over the Rays on Saturday at Camden Yards. For Severino, it was a reprieve amid an August that the catcher spent seeing his breakout season stagnate. For the Orioles, it was a boon, immediately breathing life into an offense that had been hitless in its past 20 at-bats with runners in scoring position dating back to Wednesday.
“He was disappointed grounding into the double play in the first inning,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “What a great swing. So short.”
Said Severino: “I was thinking, ‘If I get up with the bases loaded, I have to do a better job.’”
A projected 424 feet later, consider Severino’s plan executed and the Orioles relieved. Without it, they risked translating the bevy of baserunners provided by Rays opener Jose Alvarado and Pruitt into a lone run, after scoring just once despite Alvarado’s three first-inning free passes. Instead, they were soon up 7-0, courtesy of Severino and back-to-back solo homers from Hanser Alberto and Jonathan Villar.
All told, it helped pave the way for John Means’ first victory in more than a month and a banner night for the O’s battery.
“The grand slam? You can’t get anything better than than,” Means said. “You go out there with the comfort of pounding the zone and going after guys.”
Pitching with a sizable cushion for most of the night, Means held the Rays to a Michael Brosseau solo homer across seven efficient innings in what was one of his finest starts of the season. Hyde called it the best from a pitch mix standpoint, citing Means’ ability to deploy his slider and curveball consistently. And by the advanced metric Game Score, it was Means’ best, his 75 rating by that measure standing as the highest of his young career.
“I just thought he had everything working,” Hyde said. “He really just made one bad pitch, hanging a breaking ball to a hot hitter with a quick bat. Besides that, he had all his pitches working. I loved the breaking balls tonight, kept them off balance with a really good changeup, located his fastball and really cruised.”
Means did so with striking efficiency, throwing 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes and matching a career high with seven punchouts. He walked none.
In doing so, he turned around a stretch that saw him go 1-6 with a 7.48 ERA in six starts since his All-Star first half. The Orioles entered play losers of 15 of 18, their starters posting an 8.01 ERA over that span.
“I felt like I was attacking hitters again,” Means said. “Some of that comes from what I was doing wrong with my mechanics, and feeling comfortable again and just going at guys. That’s what I did in the first half, and I felt like I was doing it again.”
7 IP, 7 K’s, 1 R
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) August 25, 2019
Asked if he’d been building toward a performance like this, Means, who handed the ball to Hunter Harvey and Mychal Givens for the final two frames, agreed. For weeks, Means has tied his recent struggles to mechanical issues, and he devoted midstart work to correcting them after his two early August losses to the Yankees and last week’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts defeat to Kansas City.
In logging five no-hit innings that day against the Royals, Means felt he’d turned a corner before things unraveled in the sixth. There was no blowup inning Saturday, only improvement that was plain to see.
“I knew exactly what I’d been doing wrong,” Means said. “It was just that in-between work that I needed. Me and [pitching coach Doug Brocail] really did a lot before this start, especially out of the stretch. I felt a lot more comfortable tonight.”