That was my reading exactly. As a programmer, I've had to condition my responses to bug reports to move from, "What?! It's totally your fault!" to, "Let me investigate this on my end." It became fairly obvious from the get go that the patch made some changes that were overlooked in the patch. The patch commit message failed to give any reason or justification for the change (which was a 1 line change, possibly in a sea of other changes). Furthermore, the automated testing application that the patch submitter was using had a bug in it.
It's likely the testing apparatus said, "OMG! THIS ERROR VALUE IS WRONG!" Then, the submitter corrected it to fit the bad test. Honestly, while Rafael signed off on it, it would appear the submitter set him up the bomb, so to speak. Who would make a change like that without further investigation and then submit it is a serious question. I would hope the patch submitter is placed under some additional scrutiny.
All in all, Rafael took it in stride in his response. He also explained further, but appears to have capitulated that his initial reaction was wrong and that he should have fixed first, asked "Why are you using that, anyway?" later. Also, he should have never stated that, "So, on a first glance, this doesn't sound like a regression, but, instead, it looks that pulseaudio/tumbleweed has some serious bugs and/or regressions." It's quite obvious that changing not only what error code is returned but returning one that was literally impossible without telling anyone is a Bad Thing(TM).
As for Linus's style of management, I don't know. I mean, Rafael was way, way, way out of line with that statement I quoted. He really failed to grasp the situation, even after it was clearly spelled out for him.
All in all, I think he's learned his lesson and will be better for it. He seems to have taken it well enough, at least publicly. :-)