Was John Mean's No-Hitter the Best Orioles Pitching Performance Ever?

Was John Means' no-hitter the best game ever pitched by an Oriole? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Every time a pitcher tosses a no-hitter, history is made. But after such a dazzling performance by John Means in his no-hitter in Seattle on Wednesday - a performance that included zero hits, walks or hit by pitches - fans were left to wonder if this was historic enough an outing to be considered the greatest in franchise history.

The short answer is, probably yes. At least, if you limit the search to nine-inning games.

In the history of the Baltimore Orioles, dating back to 1954, only three pitchers have thrown complete game no-hitters prior to Means. None were a perfect game, with Means coming the closest by far - a dropped third strike provided the lone baserunner of the day. Even the batter Means allowed on base had to strike out to do so.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer threw one no-hitter, but he walked six batters in the process so it's easy to rule him out for the greatest in O's history despite his status as the best pitcher the team has ever had. Tom Phoebus walked three and struck out just nine in his no-hitter, and Hoyt Wilhelm struck out eight and walked two in his.

So already, Means has a great case after coming the closest to perfection while also being the only Orioles pitcher to strike out 12 batters in his no-hitter.

But sometimes a pitcher has his best game even when allowing a fluke base hit or two. Which other pitchers have had outings for the ages?

By Game Score, the pitching metric developed by Bill James to measure individual game performances by pitchers, the Orioles had two players reach 98 prior to Means. Erik Bedard struck out a ridiculous 15 batters in 2007 against the Rangers while allowing two hits in nine shutout innings. Mike Mussina also struck out 15 batters in a game in which he allowed one hit and two walks.

On Wednesday, John Means became the first Orioles pitcher to earn a Game Score of 99 in a nine-inning game and just the 14th pitcher in MLB this century to do so.

It should be mentioned that Jerry Walker once threw 16 shutout innings in 1959 to earn a Game Score of 111, which is by far the highest in franchise history if you include extra innings. But that was a different era. No MLB pitcher will ever pitch 16 innings in a single game ever again.

Unfortunately, we don't have batted ball data going back as far as the last Orioles no-hitters, but Means also deserves credit for how little flukiness came into play. As his own manager pointed out postgame, Means didn't allow any hard hit balls. And the data backs that up.

"I don’t remember any balls hit hard. So that just shows you how dominant he was and how many swing and misses he got," Brandon Hyde said after the game. "The lack of hard contact against a major league club for nine innings is incredibly rare. So it just shows you the kind of stuff he had and the command he had today to be able to speed guys up, slow ‘em down, and put the ball where he wanted to."

Hyde was right - the hardest hit ball off the bat was a pop-up. And he was also spot on about Means' command. Wednesday's game was just the second time since 2000 that any pitcher threw as many first-pitch strikes as Means' 26 of 27 batters faced.

Means didn't just have the first no-hitter in more than half a century in Baltimore. He also had the first non-perfect game in MLB history with zero walks, hit by pitches or errors committed.

Perhaps the simplest way to highlight how dominant Means was is to look at the list of pitchers in MLB history with 27 outs, 12 strikeouts, zero hits and zero walks.

Nap Rucker, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. That's four current or future inner circle Hall of Famers, a pitcher who played pre-1920, a multi-time All-Star and World Series champion, and now John Means. Company doesn't get any more elite than that.

Of course, the one name Means mentioned postgame is the Hall of Famer still closely involved with the Orioles. And it's one that was hard for Means to wrap his head around.

"I can’t put it into words. I can’t do it. It’s such a crazy feeling, such a whirlwind of an experience, and I don’t think I’ve been able to process it yet," Means told reporters after the game. "But to be in the same breath as [Jim] Palmer, I don’t think it gets much better than that."

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