Mike Mussina came close to pitching a no-hitter last night. Close enough to measure with a yardstick. Close enough that the Texas Rangers had nothing to offer in their own defense but the praise they sung for one of the best young pitchers in baseball.
"Now you see why he was in the All-Star Game," said Rangers out fielder Kevin Reimer, whose line-drive double in the fifth landed just a couple of feet inside the right-field foul line for his team's only hit. "He had great command. You've just got to tip your cap to a guy like that."
Mussina equaled a career high with 10 strikeouts on the way to his 10th victory of the year, outpitching the major leagues'
winningest pitcher in the process. He overpowered the Rangers while his teammates rattled 14-game winner Kevin Brown for 11 hits on the way to a lopsided 8-0 victory.
"That guy is good," said outfielder Ruben Sierra, who was the only other Rangers hitter to reach base -- with a walk. "He's a devil."
That's high praise coming from one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Mussina stared down one of the league's most explosive lineups and pitched the 29th one-hitter in Orioles history.
"He's got great control," Rangers manager Toby Harrah said. "He spots the fastball well and he throws the curveball any time in the count. He's not afraid to throw the breaking ball when he's behind and he was throwing his fastball just up and out of the strike zone enough that you couldn't hit it.
"I can't say enough about him."
It was only the third time the Rangers have been shut out this season, matching the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers for the fewest times in the major leagues. It was Mussina's second big-league shutout. He shut out the Detroit Tigers, 6-0, on June 12 at Tiger Stadium.
Both Rangers base-runners reached in the fifth. Sierra led off the inning with a walk and Reimer's double put runners at second and third with one out. But Mussina got Ivan Rodriguez on a liner to short and struck out Jeff Huson to keep Texas off the scoreboard.
"His sinker, curveball and breaking ball were all down," Reimer said, "so when you saw the fastball, you got kind of excited about it. It was always just up enough to get by you."
Harrah tried everything to break through, giving several of his bench players a chance to hit, but it was no use. Mussina was just too sharp. He changed speeds too well. He was right on top of this game and there was not much anyone was going to do about it.