One-time All-Star and former AL Rookie of the Year runner-up John Means continued his torrid start Wednesday by hurling the third no-hitter of the 2021 season and the first by an Oriole since Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson combined to no-hit Oakland nearly 30 years ago on July 13, 1991.
A bit of a late-bloomer—he didn’t become a big-league regular until his age-26 season—the 6’3” left-hander came agonizingly close to a perfect game, a feat no pitcher has accomplished since Felix Hernandez (who was actually Means’ teammate in Orioles camp this spring) retired all 27 batters against the Rays in 2012. Means’ lone blemish came when Mariners outfielder Sam Haggerty reached base on a third-inning strikeout that eluded the grasp of catcher Pedro Severino. Of the 285 “non-perfect” no-hitters in major-league history, Wednesday marked the first time no player reached on a walk, error or hit-by-pitch.
MLB refusing to recognize Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-hitter fueled weeks of debate and now Means being denied a perfect game on the basis of a similarly obscure rule figures to get the same treatment from media talking heads like Ken Rosenthal, Robert Flores and former big-leaguer Billy Ripken, who huddled up for a lively discussion Thursday on MLB Central. When asked if baseball should do away with players being allowed to reach on dropped third strikes, Ripken responded with an emphatic no (“What are we, eight? You have to complete the play!”), though his MLB Network colleagues didn’t seem to agree.
“If he swings and misses, it’s a strike. If there are runners on base, sure, they can run at their own risk. Fine, I get it. But if there’s no one on base, [I’m] done with it,” expressed Flores.
While Rosenthal didn’t seem bothered by the possibility of baseball potentially scrapping its dropped third strike rule, he doesn’t think MLB has any obligation to reclassify Means’ no-hitter as a perfect game. “By our definition of a perfect game, that was not perfect because it’s a team effort," argued Rosenthal. The veteran reporter seems to be insinuating that Means’ defense (specifically Severino) let him down, though the official scoring—the Orioles ace was charged with a wild pitch—would indicate Means was actually the one at fault.
Max Scherzer, who came within a hit-by-pitch of perfection against the Pirates in 2015 (he plunked Jose Tabata with two outs in the ninth inning), was livid the dropped third strike rule cost Means a perfect game, wondering aloud why Haggerty should be rewarded for swinging at a pitch in the dirt.
Though it won’t go in the record books as a perfect game, that shouldn’t take away from what has been a phenomenal opening month for Means, who leads all pitchers in wins above replacement (2.3) while also ranking among the league-leaders in wins (four), ERA (1.37), strikeouts (50), WHIP (0.67) and quality starts (five).