ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mike Mussina was as irritated as John Oates was excited.
"I had good enough stuff to win," said the rookie righthander after a pair of home runs enabled the Texas Rangers to beat the Orioles, 4-1, last night. "I gave up a home run [a three-run blast by Kevin Reimer] on a junk pitch.
"It makes me mad that in the back of my mind I didn't think it was the best pitch to throw, but still I threw it. It was stupid," said Mussina (1-3), who was a lot harder on himself than was his manager.
"I'm as excited as you can be after a loss," said Oates, who didn't try to hide his enthusiasm for the Orioles' new young starting rotation. "It's exciting to be in games the way these young guys are pitching.
"We've had so many games this year where we've been so far behind, it's exciting to know we can be in games and have a chance to win without having to get a bunch of runs. All we have to do is get these kids a few and we'll be OK."
Oates dismissed the fact that Mussina was second-guessing his pitch selection on both home runs he allowed last night. Ruben Sierra hit a changeup to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the fourth, and Reimer hit a curveball in the sixth to make it 4-0. Mussina had retired the first two batters in the sixth before giving up singles to Sierra and Juan Gonzalez before the home run to Reimer.
The last two hits were both on 0-and-2 pitches, something that used to be considered a cardinal sin, a theory Mussina agreed with more than Oates. "I get to two strikes and try to throw too cute, instead of throwing my best stuff," said Mussina. "They weren't hitting my fastball that much."
In the manager's office, Oates just smiled. "I hope that he's thinking," said Oates. "Now he's got something filed in his memory bank.
"But he got a lot of guys out on 0-and-2, he got a lot of guys out with changeups and he got a lot of guys out with curveballs. I'm not a manager who believes you just completely waste a pitch because it's 0-and-2," said Oates.
"Whether he made a mistake or not, I don't know. But he'll learn. Every time he goes to the mound he'll have something he can relate to. There's going to come a time when he throws the fastball and they hit it and he'll say he should've thrown the curve. And there's going to be a time when he'll throw a perfect pitch -- what's he going to say if they hit it?"
On a night that Glenn Davis made his first appearance in almost four months and Nolan Ryan came off the disabled list to give Mussina a legendary opponent 21 years his senior, Oates couldn't say enough good things about his rookie pitcher.
"He's only going to get better," said Oates, "and he's throwing pretty good as it is. He got up in the strike zone a couple of times, but he was able to make an adjustment."
For five innings, Mussina and Ryan had almost identical lines -- seven strikeouts, two hits and two walks. The difference was that one of the hits Mussina had allowed was the home run by Sierra.
"I've heard of him," Mussina had dead-panned the day before. "He's made a few more starts than I have."
Last night's win was No. 310 for Ryan (8-5, 2.69) and his third straight this year over the Orioles, a team that had beaten him in 16 of 21 decisions prior to this year. But Ryan was quick to note that the 1991 Orioles are not a good resemblance of the team that used to beat up on him.
"I guess I was overdue to have some decent games against the Orioles," he said. "The clubs they had in the past were scrappy with good pitching -- you didn't have a lot of room to work with."
Making his first start in three weeks, Ryan was never seriously threatened. He allowed only two runners to reach second base -- on Cal Ripken's first-inning double and Joe Orsulak's single and stolen base in the third.
"He had great stuff," said Texas manager Bobby Valentine. "He thought he had one more inning and I felt like he had enough. He threw 74 quality pitches. He had a big fastball -- one of the best he's had this year."
It was a relatively insignificant part of the game, but Ryan's confrontation with Davis in the first inning provided an interesting sidelight. "He's back, so I know he's ready," said Ryan, a former teammate of Davis with Houston.
With Ripken on second base and two outs, Ryan and Davis worked each other like a violin virtuoso. "Nolan was staring down from the mound, and Glenn was back on the grass after every pitch," said Oates. "It was an interesting confrontation."
It was, to say the least, a challenge for Davis in his first at-bat since April 24. "Nolan knows how to pitch and he won't give in to the hitter in situations where he can be hurt," said Davis. "A lot of guys would say 'this guy hasn't played in a while so I'll go after him.' That's how you can get hurt.
"As a hitter, I felt like I had good discipline," said Davis, who walked on a 3-and-2 count. "A couple of those pitches I could have been over-aggressive, but I wasn't. From that standpoint I felt good about my patience."
In his second at-bat against Ryan, Davis fouled out to the catcher. "Even that looked like a pitch he could handle," noted Oates, whose optimistic fountain was running over.
"It's good to see Glenn in the lineup, to have Billy [Ripken] back and getting some hits [4-for-7 since his return] and having these young pitchers give us a chance to win."
Never mind the 4-1 loss, the fourth in a row for the Orioles on the heels of a season-high five-game winning streak. On this night, nothing was going to dim the excitement for John Oates.