His stuff is average at best, he has been ill with the flu this week and he hadn't beaten the Seattle Mariners in almost four years.
"In all honesty, if he was 18 and pitching a high school game, he probably wouldn't get signed," Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates said of him.
It was an important triumph for the Orioles, who returned tattered from their longest road trip in nine seasons and were playing in their fourth city in six days.
Smith said he felt terrible after the team arrived in Kansas City, Mo., at 6:30 a.m. three days ago. So he accepted an offer to fly to Baltimore early and rest.
"If I felt as bad as I did that day I probably wouldn't have pitched," said. "I still had a stomachache before the game."
In the course of allowing one run (Edgar Martinez's sixth-inning homer), Smith lost 7 pounds and zipped through two uniforms and four T-shirts.
"I thought he was going to lose it right on the mound," said Oates.
But Smith never flinched on a sultry night, lasting through 90 pitches until Oates removed him after a leadoff single by Omar Vizquel in the eighth.
"He continues to pitch well," said the manager. "You just have confidence when he goes to the mound that he's not going to beat himself."
Smith has allowed five runs in 22 2/3 innings during his past three starts, working to a 1.99 ERA. The team's three-game losing streak was the second he has broken since May 24, when his contract was purchased from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings.
Flanagan threw a double-play pitch to Martinez and escaped the eighth unscathed, improving his ERA to 1.11 over his past 19 appearances.
Gregg Olson finished off the Mariners with six pitches in the ninth and earned his 20th save, the first Oriole to reach that milestone in three straight years under the current save rule.
Thanks to the three Orioles pitchers and Rich DeLucia, who was simply out-dueled, the game ended in 2 hours, 17 minutes, the quickest Orioles game of the season.
Ripken provided Smith with the necessary cushion, with a two-run, two-out shot in the third inning that put the Mariners and DeLucia down, 3-0.
"That kind of score does everything," said Smith. "It takes away their speed, the hit and run, and Chris [Hoiles] throwing out that runner [Harold Reynolds] makes them think.
"They don't want to waste an out and have to use their at-bats a little more."
Ripken became only the eighth player in major-league history to hit 20-plus homers in his first 10 full seasons on a night when he was honored for his All-Star Game feats and for playing in his 1,500th straight game.
"It was a big breaking ball, just like in the All-Star Game," said Ripken. "When I look back, this will be a special night. I'm trying to downplay it, but the ways those fans received me is special.
"I have trouble reflecting on these things. Part of me says people are making a big deal about nothing, and part of me is proud to be able to go out and play every day. One side wants to celebrate, and another says not to blow it out of proportion."
He added that he is trying not to think about Lou Gehrig, who, coincidentally, also homered in his 1,500th consecutive game.
"This has to be the earliest I've ever had 20," he said. "It feels good. At this point I'm surpassing many of my own expectations."
The Orioles added an insurance run in the seventh when Chito Martinez answered Edgar Martinez's homer with one of his own -- in his first game at Memorial Stadium.
It was the third for Chito, who has hit safely in every game he has started (nine) since joining the Orioles July 5.
Meanwhile, Smith was "taking it pitch by pitch after the fifth. Actually, the heat kind of helped then because you're concerned about whether you can keep doing it."
The victory was the Orioles' first over the Mariners this season by a pitcher other than Jose Mesa, now at Rochester. And Seattle was on a mini-roll since the break, with six wins in eight games, four by shutout.
"I hope we can play better at home now," said Oates, mindful of the 14-25 record at Memorial Stadium. "The trip we just had will make us appreciate home more because the last five have been tough.
"I said before the game we'll see what kind of them we are and how proud I was of them after the last five games, not only because of three mentally tough games, but because of two tough travel days."
The Orioles' Cal Ripken last night became the eighth player in major-league history to hit 20 homers in each of his first 10 years:
Player... ... ... ... Years... ... ... .Seasons
Eddie Mathews... ... .1952-65... ... ... ... 14
Billy Williams... ... 1961-73... ... ... ... 13
Reggie Jackson... ... 1968-80... ... ... ... 13
Frank Robinson... ... 1956-67... ... ... ... 12
Rocky Colavito... ... 1956-66... ... ... ... 11
Joe DiMaggio... ... . 1936-48... ... ... ... 10
Ted Williams... ... . 1939-51... ... ... ... 10
Cal Ripken... ... ... 1982-91... ... ... ... 10
Note: Williams' and DiMaggio's streaks were not in consecutive seasons because of military service.