ARLINGTON, Texas -- It wasn't a matchup for the ages, but rather one for the aging. At least in the baseball sense.
And on a typical hot, muggy Texas night, when the temperature didn't dip below 90 degrees until after they turned off the lights, "youth" was not served. The older of the two starting pitchers, in fact the oldest baseball player this side of the St. Petersburg Senior League, lasted the longest and had the most success.
All of which added up to the fifth loss in the last six starts for the elder statesman of the Orioles' rotation, Rick Sutcliffe, after last night's 5-2 loss to Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers.
"You know going in that you're not going to get many runs against that guy," said Sutcliffe (10-9). "We've been in some tough games, and I just have to get a little better."
The Orioles had seven base runners in the first three innings, when Ryan (4-3) struggled with his control, but couldn't put the ageless wonder away. At 45, he is nine years Sutcliffe's senior -- and last night his career strikeout total went two past the 5,600 mark.
Afterward there was a suggestion that Ryan benefited from a generous strike zone created by plate umpire Joe Brinkman -- and even a hint of recurring charges that some baseballs might have been scuffed. But the bottom line was that it was difficult to gauge Ryan's performance because the Orioles picked up where they left off just before the All-Star break.
In their last 16 innings, the Orioles have managed just five hits. "The only thing I know about hitting is that it's hard to do," manager John Oates said, when asked if he had any theories about the slump.
"But we're going to work on it. We're going to work with some guys in the batting cage tomorrow [today] and keep working at it until we get it right.
"We didn't hit too many balls hard tonight," said Oates. "But I don't know what to think because when you look at the scoreboard and he [Ryan] has given up only two hits, there's usually a lot more strikeouts.
"How many [strikeouts] did he have -- four?" asked Oates. "That's not even 'keeping size' for him. Four should be below his limit -- they shouldn't even count his strikeouts until he gets to eight."
Ryan, who went 11 straight starts without a win to . start the season and 13 in a row dating back to last year, wasn't overly impressed with his fourth straight win. "It wasn't a particularly good game, but the winning part is a good feeling.
"I was inconsistent for the first three innings, but the longer I threw, the closer I got to developing a rythm," said Ryan. "Once we got the three-run lead, my attitude was not to walk anyone, throw strikes and not let the momentum change."
Six of the nine hits Sutcliffe allowed came at the start of an inning -- the last four for extra bases. The veteran right-hander cited a double by Jeff Frye to lead off the fifth, and a subsequent losing confrontation with Rafael Palmeiro, as the turning point.
"He [Frye] did a good job to get on with the double and when Toby [new Texas manager Toby Harrah] decided to bunt him over, I had to pitch to Palmeiro with a runner on third," said Sutcliffe. "The bunt was the key play in the game."
Palmeiro's homer broke a 2-2 tie, and Kevin Reimer hit a bases=empty shot an inning later to give Ryan as much as he needed. He left after seven innings, turning the lead over to a parade of three relievers, with Jeff Russell getting his 22nd save by working the ninth inning.
Sam Horn (Ryan's 5,600th strikeout victim in the sixth inning) was one of the few Orioles who made solid contact. But one of the times he did ended the Orioles' first (and next-to-last) scoring opportunity -- a sharp double-play ball in the opening inning.
"It was basic Nolan," said Horn. "He just goes out and gets the job done. You've got to give him credit. I can't tell you if his control got any better, but he got a lot more strikes called [after the third inning]."
At one point in the game Sutcliffe was seen giving Brinkman a ball left on the pitching mound after Ryan left, and Oates admitted that a "few guys thought he was doing something."
But Sutcliffe, who hasn't ducked a question since he's been with the Orioles offered only a "no comment." And Oates, who lodged an official protest with the American League over alleged improprieties by the Yankees' Tim Leary, said he didn't see any evidence personally.
"Davey [first base coach Davey Lopes] said he saw a couple [that appeared scuffed]," said Oates. "And Sut gave one to Brinkman, but he [Brinkman] said it was so light he couldn't feel anything and put it back in his bag.
"I didn't see anything," said Oates. "I don't know if he's doing anything or not, but if he is, he's a brave man, because he never takes his glove off.
"If he's doing anything, he has to be doing it in his glove -- and he can't hide that if he's checked," said Oates.
Lopes just laughed and shrugged his shoulders when asked if any of the baseballs that ended up in the coaching box looked suspicious.
Regardless of what Ryan might or might not have been doing, the most suspicious part of the evening was the Orioles' struggling offense. "We've got to swing the bat a little bit better," said Oates in what could be generously described as an understatement.
The Orioles are now five games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who beat Seattle last night, matching their biggest deficit of the year (April 16). They have lost four in a row and are in immediate need of a jump-start if they are to stay close to the lead.