CHICAGO -- The Orioles identified their hard-luck case the night before as Mike Mussina, the guy with the golden arm, the gilded career win percentage but the absentee offense.
Last night against the Chicago White Sox, they anointed their talisman, a plain-talking, unassuming guy with a Bubba Gump accent, a mishmash assortment and the underrated ability to make an offense break out. The Orioles left Comiskey Park last night celebrating Pat Rapp, the well-traveled son of Sulphur, La., and a 12-6 win.
As if moved by Rapp's presence, the Orioles evicted White Sox starting pitcher Mike Sirotka within 2 1/3 innings, leaving the left-hander with more runs than outs. They also ended a two-game slump in which they managed only seven hits against back-to-back starters.
The Orioles took a 3-0 lead after there were two outs in the second inning then responded to the White Sox' s two-run answer with a six-run outburst in the third.
Slapstick defense by right fielder Magglio Ordonez fed the rally but the Orioles pounded away with five hits and a sacrifice fly. Center fielder Rich Amaral tripled home two runs during the five-hit rally before second baseman Delino DeShields (3-for-4) contributed his second run-scoring single.
Ordonez helped the rally along by misplaying several balls, including Mike Bordick's fly ball that he backed away from, lunged at, and dropped for an error. Four White Sox pitchers hurt themselves with a combined 12 walks.
Rapp was denied his fourth "quality start" in as many outings but raised his record to an improbable 3-0, leaving him with as many wins as Mussina, Roger Clemens and Chuck Finley combined. Rapp surrendered five earned runs in five innings, the first time he has failed to survive six innings or had allowed more than three runs.
"I'll take 3-0," said Rapp when reminded he is only a converted save from joining Orlando Hernandez, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez as the game's only four-game winners.
But the magical Rapp -- signed two weeks before spring training for a $750,000 base salary -- isn't defined by mere stats. His influence over the offense has been mystic.
In Rapp's four starts, the Orioles have scored 32 runs and at least six every game. It justifies his faith in an offense that influenced his decision to come to Baltimore after compiling an 18-20 record the last two seasons.
"I appreciate it," he said dryly.
The Orioles were coming off a sluggish, 8-2 loss in which they supported Mussina with only two hits against White Sox starter Cal Eldred. Mussina, given 13 runs in five starts, was left winless for a fifth consecutive start while forced to deal with a late arrival from the West Coast. Mussina christened it "the toughest stretch of my career." Rapp, who still holds the Florida Marlins' record for wins in a season (14 in 1995), must be enjoying the ride of his life.
"Sidney [Ponson] gets on me for hogging all the runs. It's not my fault. There have been years when I didn't get runs," Rapp said.
Rapp surrendered two runs during a five-hit second inning but bailed himself out with a strikeout of Jose Valentin with the tying run at third. Rapp, prone to high pitch counts, never appears to cruise; he moves from crisis to crisis.
"He's got good stuff and he's made the pitches when he's had to," manager Mike Hargrove said. Rapp has trailed for only a half-inning in four starts. After chronicling Rapp's tendency to pitch from behind, Hargrove felt compelled to clarify his message. "Pat's been very good. I don't want to come off sounding like Pat was lucky tonight. Pat wasn't lucky. Pat got outs when he needed outs. Pat pitched well for five innings," said Hargrove.
Last night he waited until the fifth inning to encounter additional trouble. It cost him his run of quality appearances but failed to jeopardize his decision.
A two-out walk to Frank Thomas was followed by an Ordonez single. Paul Konerko then crushed Rapp's first pitch for a three-run homer that created a 9-5 game. When Rapp got the inning's final out on his 100th pitch, Hargrove had seen enough.
"Your job as manager is to imagine the absolute worst happening and prepare to keep that from happening," he said. "When you do score nine runs, you say, geez, we've got to keep these guys down. The next thing, Pat goes out there and goes ball one, ball two, strike one, ball three and the leadoff hitter gets on and you start thinking. You can never relax when a pitcher is pitching behind in the count. We outscored some of our mistakes. That happens everywhere, not just with Pat."
On this night, the worst possible thing didn't involve a blown lead but an injury to reliever Calvin Maduro. Called upon to start the sixth, Maduro took a shot off the right shin. The drive from third baseman Greg Norton became an out when Maduro chased down the ball; however, Maduro was forced to limp from the field and was classified as day-to-day.
Hargrove was then forced to summon left-hander Buddy Groom to face pinch hitter Herbert Perry. Groom, last weekend's hero in Oakland, needed two pitches to escape as he gloved Perry's line drive and doubled Carlos Lee off third to end the inning.
Rather than wait for another White Sox rally, the Orioles attacked Tanyon Sturtze in the top of the seventh, converting two leadoff walks for two runs and an 11-5 lead. DeShields doubled over third base for his third RBI. B. J. Surhoff followed with a single to restore a six-run lead before homering in the ninth.