Dodger starter Kevin Tapani stood on the mound Wednesday night, listened to the 48,063 fans screaming in his ear and wanted to hide.
Here he was, wanting to make a great first impression with his new teammates, and he had done just the opposite in his first five minutes.
What Tapani didn’t realize was that no matter how poorly you pitch at Coors Field, if you hang around awhile, crazy things will happen.
Tapani, who suddenly found a best friend in first baseman Eric Karros, later stood in the clubhouse still trying to figure out how he became the winning pitcher in the Dodgers’ 10-7 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
“Wow, and I thought the ball flew out of the Metrodome,” said Tapani, who gave up nine hits and five earned runs in six innings. “The best thing I can say about this night is that I got it over with.”
Karros hit two home runs and Todd Hollandsworth and Roberto Kelly hit one each to match the Rockies’ four home runs, two by Dante Bichette.
Tapani, acquired Monday night from the Minnesota Twins, spent the last 48 hours packing his bags for the next two months, and getting stranded for five hours during a layover in Detroit.
He walked into the clubhouse at about 2 p.m. Wednesday, introduced himself to Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda and the coaches, learned the signs, studied the scouting reports and then listened to teammate Tom Candiotti.
“I told him, ‘Congratulations, you just came from the second-worst ballpark to the worst,’ ” Candiotti said.
It took two pitches for Tapani to discover that the Metrodome is a pitcher’s paradise compared to Coors Field. With the Dodgers leading, 3-0, Eric Young smacked Tapani’s second pitch for a triple off the center-field wall. And Mike Kingery followed with a run-scoring double to center.
“I thought those were just fly balls,” said Tapani, still shaking his head.
Quickly realizing that his breaking balls don’t dance much in the mile-high air, Tapani settled down and induced a groundout from Larry Walker. He then struck out Andres Galarraga.
But just when he thought he might have this baby mastered, Bichette hit a 385-foot homer to left. Three pitches later, Vinny Castilla hit a 423-foot homer to center.
In his first 17 pitches as a National League starter, Tapani gave up a double, a triple, two homers and four runs.
“I went up to him and told him, ‘Hey, that’s a good inning for only giving up four runs at this place,’ ” Karros said.
Said catcher Mike Piazza: “We kind of looked at each other and started laughing.”
Just when the Rockies started laughing and the Dodger front office began wincing, a funny thing happened. Tapani began to resemble the pitcher who had been the ace of the Twins’ pitching staff. He gave up only a run-scoring triple to Kingery the rest of the way.
Tapani’s effort enabled the Dodgers (47-42) to win for the 11th time in the last 14 games, creeping to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Rockies. The Dodgers are a season-high five games over .500 and have never been more confident.
“We’ve got them knocked down,” said closer Todd Worrell. “So we might as well kick them while they’re down. We’re in position to sweep and move right past them.”
The Dodgers have scored 54 runs in five games at Coors Field, where they’re batting .362 with 10 doubles, five triples and 11 homers.
Karros went three for five, the other hit a double. He is batting .478 here this season with four doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.
“I told [Tapani] we’d get those runs back for him,” said Karros, who hit a three-run homer in the first and a solo shot in the ninth.
Said Tapani: “They told me, ‘Keep in there, we’re not done scoring runs here.’ Hey, they were right. If I still was with the other team [Minnesota], that might not have happened.
“It might not have been the first impression I wanted, but everything worked out OK.”