It's nice to add O's break to hard-luck Rapp sheet

March 29, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Pat Rapp reached into his locker for a pair of framed 5-by-7 family portraits -- one of him and his three sons, the other of his wife and the boys.

"He's over 14 pounds now," Rapp said, pointing to his youngest son, Reid Patrick, who was born 9 1/2 weeks early last Sept. 13, in the middle of a pennant race. "He's doing fine."

Reid Patrick was 2 pounds, 12 ounces at birth, with an 8-inch waist. Rapp's wife, Rebecca, underwent emergency surgery to deliver him. Rapp left the Boston Red Sox three times to return home to Louisiana and be at her side.

Looking back, Rapp believes he would have lost his spot on the Red Sox's postseason roster regardless -- the team was intent on using Ramon Martinez and Tom "Flash" Gordon.

Still, here's a guy who was bumped off San Francisco's postseason roster in 1997, earned a World Series ring from Florida in absentia and experienced another cruel October fate with Boston last season.

Rapp, 32, normally wouldn't qualify as a sympathetic figure -- he's a journeyman with a 56-67 career record, playing for his fifth team in four seasons. But somehow, it's fitting that he's finally catching a break, fitting that he will open the season as the Orioles' No. 3 starter.

Someone has to benefit from this mess, right?

Rapp never would have joined the Orioles if the team hadn't backed off on Aaron Sele. He never would have become their No. 4 starter if Scott Erickson hadn't under -gone elbow surgery. And he never would have become the No. 3 if Jason Johnson hadn't flopped this spring.

One domino fell after another, and now the Orioles are counting on Rapp to help them avoid a third straight early-season collapse. It might sound like a lot to ask of a pitcher who struggled yesterday in his first extended outing. But from July 28 to the end of last season with Boston, Rapp went 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA.

"I think he's going to be a great help," said Orioles catcher Charles Johnson, Rapp's teammate with the Florida Marlins from 1994 to '97. "He's a veteran. He's been around for a while. And he's going to give us innings.

"He's going to get us to the sixth or seventh inning, give our bullpen a chance to come in and win ballgames. At this point, that's what we need with Scotty injured."

But if Rapp promises to be such "a great help," why did the Red Sox sour on him last September, then decline to pick up his option? The answers range from Rapp's career-long control problems to the Red Sox's desire to revive their closer (Gordon) and a former 20-game winner (Ramon Martinez) for the playoffs.

"It was pretty tough," Rapp said. "Flash hadn't pitched the whole year. Next thing you know, he's on the roster. I don't know how that came about. I had a 4.12 ERA. I don't know what else they could have wanted from me in that situation."

Rapp left the team when Reid Patrick was born, with the Red Sox closing in on the wild card. He offered to return in time to take his regular turn in the rotation, but manager Jimy Williams told him he wouldn't be needed so soon. Right then, Rapp sensed the team was making other plans.

"I could see it," he said. "I could see it all unfolding in front of me."

His absence created an opening for Ramon Martinez, who earned his spot on the postseason roster with two impressive starts against the Orioles. Rapp figured he would still be needed as a long reliever, but Williams instead chose John Wasdin, a right- hander with superior control.

Six months later, Rapp grows animated reliving his disappoint- ment, but at the time, he had more pressing concerns. His first two sons were born six weeks premature, weighing 5 pounds, 8 ounces, and 4 pounds, 7 ounces. But neither had been in as much danger as Reid Patrick.

"You should have seen how skinny he looked," Rapp said. "He was in the hospital for six weeks. He was on these breathing monitors. A couple of times, he quit breathing. It was just a scary situation.

"Even when we took him home, we had to keep him on his monitor for six weeks while he was sleeping, to make sure he was breathing. A couple of times the battery ran out, and scared the heck out of us."

He was a father. He was a teammate. Everything was happening at once. Reggie Jefferson bolted the Red Sox when the team left him off the postseason roster, but Rapp remained the good soldier, even though he would have preferred to be at home with his family.

He wound up pitching one inning in the American League Championship Series -- the Red Sox adjusted their roster after Wasdin and Tim Wakefield struggled in the Division Series, then suffered another consequence when Gordon underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in December. He is out for the 2000 season.

Not that Rapp feels vindicated by any of this. He was less disappointed in '97 when San Francisco snubbed him -- he wasn't pitching as well then. Of course, it was just his luck that the Marlins won the World Series three months after trading him to the Giants.

"It was hard for me to sit there and watch, actually," Rapp said. "I pulled for my buddies during the World Series. But the only game I really watched was the last game. It was just a hard situation for me to handle after being there for five years, building the team up."

By now, Rapp is accustomed to the unexpected twists of a journeyman's career. In the picture he keeps inside his locker, he and his three sons are all sporting Orioles caps, and Reid Patrick is wearing a bib with the team logo. But no one would dare suggest that the picture is a keeper.

Pat Rapp shouldn't even have been an Oriole.

Now, suddenly, he's their No. 3 starter.

"Anything can happen in this game," he said. "And anything does."

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