Once looked upon as the Orioles' solution to a fifth starter, Pat Rapp takes the mound at Camden Yards tonight intent on doing his finest impersonation of the No. 3 guy. His audience will include the Cleveland Indians.
Rapp will be leery of the first inning, knowing just how cruel it can be when the Indians are wielding the bats. They pounded him during one of his starts last season while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, though Rapp lived to tell about it.
The Indians scored five runs before Rapp recorded an out. They hit three home runs, and barely missed a fourth when a fly ball from Manny Ramirez slammed against the top of the Green Monster in left field.
Even the first out was traumatic. Travis Fryman lined a shot up the middle that nailed Rapp on the leg. The ball caromed toward first base, where Fryman was retired.
"If that would have been a hit, I probably would have been out of the game," Rapp said.
Strangely, the outing took the same sharp turn as Fryman's ball. Rapp found a comfort zone against a team that has registered 21 earned runs and 34 hits against him in 24 2/3 innings over five games.
"I ended up going six or seven innings without giving up another run," he said.
"We were winning by one when I left. I don't know if I figured them out or earlier in the game I just didn't have my pitches down. I don't know. But they've hit me pretty good in the past.
"Just when you think you've got some success going, one of their guys who's not supposed to hit you good takes you deep."
Like Kenny Lofton, who burned Mike Mussina with an opposite-field homer on Opening Day that broke a 1-1 tie. Rapp could feel Mussina's pain.
"The first inning last year, he's the first batter of the game," Rapp said. "I threw him a nasty changeup that dropped off the table and he golfed it out to right. I'm just looking at him like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' "
Rapp will be making his fifth appearance at Camden Yards. Not known for its warmth toward pitchers, the ballpark has treated him kindly. Rapp is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA at Oriole Park.
"I'm not looking at this start any differently. I'm just going to go out there and try to pitch my game," he said.
His first one wasn't supposed to come this early, but Scott Erickson's surgery and the demotion of Jason Johnson elevated Rapp.
"It feels kind of normal now," he said. "Just having the season start kind of gets exciting, and I'm sure it'll be a lot more intense whenever I get out there on the mound, but everything is pretty smooth now."
He just hopes the first inning tonight stays that way.