FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mike Mussina polished off the equivalent of an early spring "no-hitter" -- and that wasn't even the most significant event of the night for the Orioles.
Mussina has been so effective in his three exhibition outings that he is almost taken for granted. He has pitched nine innings this spring without allowing either a hit or a run and was overpowering in the four innings he worked last night.
But it was the performance of the two pitchers who followed Mussina in the 5-0 win over the Yankees that presented an interesting contrast.
Jose Mesa, who also extended his scoreless inning streak to nine, was given little chance to make the team, let alone the starting rotation, when camp opened almost a month ago. Jim Poole, one of the pleasant surprises of a year ago, was considered a lefthanded fixture in the bullpen, but had not thrown a pitch in competition until the ninth inning as the sizzling Orioles ran their exhibition record to 8-3.
For Poole, the first step of the spring was important. He had been sidelined with a case of shoulder tendinitis and each day he remained on the sidelines weighed on his mind.
He was asked if he felt a little bit of relief to have his first appearance behind him.
"No," he said emphatically, "it was a big relief. A very big relief. I've been sitting on my butt for three weeks. You see what's going on around here -- you've got to want to be a part of it.
"I had to put my two cents worth in to be on the Opening Day roster."
Manager John Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman both admitted to a sense of relief that Poole had no apparent difficulties.
"It was a good one for him -- he got into a little jam, then got out of it," said Bosman. "It's good to get it out of the way."
Poole gave up a single and a walk in the inning he pitched, and after three batters he was visited by Bosman. "He was getting under the ball," said Oates, "and I sent Bos out there to find out if he was doing that to protect his arm. If he was, then I didn't want him throwing another pitch."
When Bosman was convinced Poole was having no arm difficulty, he offered a piece of advice and left the mound. "I was pumped up and flying open," said Poole. "He gave me a couple of key words and then my body just took over."
It was enough to convince Oates and Bosman that Poole was sound, which was the main concern. "After that [the visit from Bosman], he was fine," said Oates. "He made some good pitches."
In between Mussina and Poole, Mesa also continued to score points in his quest for a job. "I've said all along that there's too much arm there to give up on," said Oates.
"From the beginning, we said he was one of the guys who had a chance to be in the starting rotation. Everything I've read says that we've picked our five starters -- but we haven't.
"What he [Mesa] is doing is giving us some alternatives. We could start him or somebody else out in the bullpen. If it works, good, if not, then we can go in another direction."
Mesa threw one pitch in particular that caught everybody's attention. In the seventh inning, the third he worked, Mesa froze Don Mattingly with a fastball before getting him on a routine fly to centerfield.
"[Catcher] Mark Parent came into the dugout after the inning and said, 'If that pitch was 20 (mph], it had to be 100,' " related Oates.
Arm strength, however, has never been a question with Mesa, so it was the inning before that he scored the most points with Bosman. After giving up back-to-back singles to Hensley Meulens and Randy Velarde, Mesa had a little chat with catcher Rick Dempsey.
"He hadn't hit the target on either of those guys," said Dempsey. "I told him 'hit the target one time and you'll get a double play.' The next pitch was a fastball away, we got a double play, then he threw a good changeup and got a pop fly to end the inning."
In the dugout, Bosman took note. "A year or so past, he might have done something that would've gotten him in more trouble," Bosman said of Mesa. "He's showing signs of being able to make pitches he has to make -- that's the highlight of that situation. I'm pleased with his progress."
However, in a game that featured opportunistic hitting (a two-run, two-out double by Mike Devereaux in the first, a pair of leadoff doubles by Bill Ripken, a two-out single by Cal Ripken and two-out double by Glenn Davis), there wasn't much question about who was the dominant performer.
Asked if Mussina is as good as he looks, Oates only smiled and said: "I hope so."
Bosman was even more passive. "You saw a little bit of that last year," said the pitching coach.
Behind the plate, Dempsey continued to be impressed. "He [Mussina] is going to be a lot of fun," said the veteran, who caught the first six innings. "He throws the ball over the plate.
"We mixed it up as much as you can, and he threw every pitch for strikes. He could make for a lot of quick games. He has good motion on all of his pitches.