Orioles 5, Mariners 3
Rare is the moment these days when Rafael Palmeiro is able to escape a tape recorder, microphone or camera placed before him. A dozen eyes followed him everywhere he went in the clubhouse Thursday prior to Baltimore's 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners. Reporters noted every move. Even Palmeiro's 10-year-old son, Preston, stood outside of the dugout during batting practice, and with a small video camera taped his walk from the outfield to the batting cage.
As his quest for 3,000 hits gets closer to reality -- a single Thursday night left him at 2,999 -- Palmeiro has grown weary of the attention. During the three-day all-star break, Palmeiro tried to forget his quest for history.
For the sake of the team and the season, Palmeiro told a gathering of reporters in the Baltimore dugout that he hoped to get the two hits on Thursday. Seattle fans, anxious to see history, cheered Palmeiro in his final two at-bats. They jeered pitcher Julio Mateo when he walked Palmeiro in the eighth.
"I guess they wanted to see it," Palmeiro said. "I was a little surprised after they booed their guy. But trust me, that's not going to happen after I get it."
More than three hours prior to Thursday's game, Palmeiro sat in the third base stands in an empty stadium with a cell phone in hand. He lounged on one of the seats, legs propped up on the seat in front of him, and spoke for several minutes. He was free of the attention. Palmeiro hung up the phone and then immediately moved to meet a television reporter, who stood on the field. Palmeiro's respite had been brief.
It was against this backdrop that the Orioles played their first game after the all-star break. Daniel Cabrera was given the starting assignment of putting the Orioles a game closer to first place. The first-place Boston Red Sox already had lost by the time Baltimore's game was in the second inning.
But Palmeiro's chase, at least for now, has eclipsed the pennant race. During batting practice, fans asked Palmeiro to get the two hits on Thursday. The first baseman simply smiled.
Palmeiro's lone hit of the night was a sharp single to right field in the fourth inning. He stood on first base when Jay Gibbons hit a two-run home run that helped the Orioles narrow the score to 3-2.
Cabrera faltered in the second inning, though it was not entirely his fault. He allowed a one-out single to Adrian Beltre and hit Jeremy Reed. Willie Bloomquist singled to drive in a run and then Gibbons threw the ball past third baseman Melvin Mora, which scored another run. The third run scored on a wild pitch that appeared to have crossed up catcher Sal Fasano.
The catcher more than made up for his mistake. Leading off the fifth inning, Fasano hit a ball over the right-centerfield wall to tie the game at 3. The Orioles took the lead in the sixth when Gibbons scored on a sacrifice fly from Larry Bigbie.
Cabrera, who had seemed on the verge of collapse in the second, regained his composure to retire 19 of the last 20 batters he faced. He allowed only two hits on the night, both in that second inning.
But it was Palmeiro, and not the game, that seemed to matter to Seattle fans.
"Me, you and 30,000 people were pulling for him," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
They applauded Palmeiro when he stepped to the plate prior to his at-bat in the sixth. Each time Mariners starter Aaron Sele threw a pitch, flash bulbs popped throughout the stadium. Palmeiro disappointed the fans. On a 3-1 pitch, Palmeiro sent a slow dribbler to Seattle first baseman Richie Sexson.
"I just wanted to do it and have the fans enjoy it," Palmeiro said. "They wanted to see it tonight. They'll have to come back tomorrow."
Palmeiro's teammates patted him on the shoulder and laughed in the dugout. Palmeiro had slipped coming out of the batters box on the play.
"They thought, 'You're trying to beat that out?' " Palmeiro said. "I was out by 40 feet."
The man who will become only the fourth player in baseball history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits had, on the eve of one of the milestones, managed to produce one of the weakest outs of his career.