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Means Breaks Up No-Hitter Monotony With Something Special

Close up of red stitching on a white baseball.
Peter Miller via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It feels like pitching a big league no-hitter is as rare these days as those extra fortune cookies the cashier sneaks into your bag at your favorite Chinese restaurant.

You think you’re getting an extra value. Then, you go back to get an extra order of shrimp toast and discover that they sneak a couple of cookies in everybody’s order of egg foo young.

We’re only just past Mother’s Day and there have already been four no-hitters thrown in the major leagues, two in the last week alone.

My friend, Rob Daniels, has researched that this marks only the fourth time since 1901 and only the second time in 104 years that there have been four no-hitters in Major League Baseball in less than any 28-day period.

Former Oriole Wade Miley, now with the Cincinnati Reds, tossed a no-no Friday against Cleveland, marking the second time the soon-to-be former Indians have been blanked this season.

Of interest closer to home were the no-hit exploits of current Orioles lefthander John Means who twirled a most unusual masterpiece last Thursday.

Means faced the minimum number of batters, 27, and missed becoming the 24th pitcher to throw a perfect game by a third inning wild pitch that catcher Pedro Severino couldn’t handle.

As it was, Means struck out 12 Seattle Mariners en route to becoming the 309th player in baseball history to throw a no-hitter and the first Oriole to do so alone and in a complete game since Jim Palmer did in 1969, nearly 52 years ago.

Palmer was 23 and at the relative dawn of a Hall of Fame career when he threw one of baseball’s 321 no-hit gems. Means, on the other hand, is 28 and something of an overnight sensation.

The Kansas native almost didn’t make his high school squad, but had a productive pre-college career. After high school, Means was taken in the 46th round of baseball’s amateur draft by Atlanta.

He passed up baseball then and went first to a community college and then on to West Virginia University where he pitched well enough to be drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft.

From there, Means moved up the Orioles farm system, though he appeared to stall at the Double A level. Indeed, things seemed so precarious for Means that he signed on as a substitute teacher in the next county over from his home.

Things started to jell in 2019, and Means made the Orioles big league roster and landed a spot on the American League All-Star team, becoming the first Baltimore rookie to make the All-Star team since 1966.

He went on to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting that season.

In the time since, Means has emerged as one of baseball’s top pitchers, even as his father, Alan, his biggest critic and cheerleader, was battling pancreatic cancer, a fight he would lose last August.

Indeed, John Means’ life, on and off the diamond, has been full of peaks and valleys. But, if last Thursday was an indication, you’d have to think the notes inside his fortune cookies will be more hopeful going forward.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.