Orioles 6, Mariners 3
-- They ran from the dugout and from the bullpen to celebrate a man who always did his best in anonymity. So when it came time to join baseball's greatest, it was fitting he did so thousands of miles from the spotlight.
Rafael Palmeiro was never the best player on his team, never has won a World Series or a most valuable player award. But after Friday night, Palmeiro's place in history and in the Hall of Fame is undeniable.
On an overcast, chilly day in Seattle, at approximately 11:26 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Palmeiro's double to left field in the fifth inning sent him into baseball immortality as he became the 26th player in history to reach 3,000 hits. He also joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with more than 500 home runs and at least 3,000 hits.
Palmeiro's 3,000th hit tied him with Roberto Clemente for 25th place on the all-time list. In the sixth, he added a single to center off Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa to pass Clemente.
That Palmeiro drove in a run and scored a run in Baltimore's 6-3 win against the Seattle Mariners made the night more memorable. The Orioles, with the win, remained one game behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. Throughout the chase Palmeiro, 40, had said he hoped the focus would remain on the team, which is in the thick of a playoff race. He managed to put the focus on himself and the team on Friday.
Being linked with Aaron, Mays and Murray seemed to humble Palmeiro. In the days leading up to the milestone, Palmeiro was reluctant to put his name alongside those Hall of Famers.
"I'm in a group with them but it doesn't mean I belong with them," Palmeiro said.
Palmeiro enjoyed the moment with his two sons, his wife and brother in the stands. For the past several weeks, Palmeiro's sons Preston, 10, and Patrick, 15, followed him early to the ballpark every day.
Even as he approached the milestone, Palmeiro never strayed from his routine. As soon as he arrived to the ballpark, he dressed and then took his sons outside and played catch or threw batting practice.
Palmeiro's first at-bat on Friday was similar to his final at-bat Thursday. He stepped to the plate amid cheers, and heard boos every time Seattle starter Joel Pineiro threw a ball. Palmeiro had started the at-bat swinging at a low strike. Pineiro then threw four consecutive balls. Each pitch triggered hundreds of flashbulbs. On the fourth ball, the crowd booed Pineiro again.
Palmeiro came up again in the third. He took a strike on the first pitch and then sent a weak grounder to first baseman Richie Sexson, who stepped on the bag for the out.
The Orioles scored three runs in the first two innings and had a runner on in the first four innings. Palmeiro's third try came in the fifth.
He fell behind in the count, but took two balls to even the count at 2-2. On the fifth pitch, Palmeiro sent a run-scoring double to left. It was typical for him to take the outside pitch and go the other way. "I guess I'm just glad it's over with," Palmeiro said. "Now we can focus on winning games."
Shortstop Miguel Tejada, Manager Lee Mazzilli and Preston Palmeiro led the charge from the dugout, but soon the entire team swarmed the first baseman. Orioles relievers ran from the bullpen to greet Palmeiro at second base. Palmeiro spent almost five minutes hugging each teammate and coach. After his teammates left, Palmeiro stood alone at second base and received an ovation from the crowd. The first baseman tipped his helmet to the crowd. "It was emotional," he said. "I wasn't expecting that. I thought for a second or two the game would stop."
A few minutes later Palmeiro scored Baltimore's fifth run. Palmeiro sat in the dugout and buried his head in a towel. Palmeiro will be known for consistency in his 20-year career that started with the Chicago Cubs and included two stints with the Texas Rangers.
He never led the league in any of the three triple crown categories (home runs, batting average, and RBI), but had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in 10 of his 19 seasons. He is also a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Palmeiro also tied Robin Yount for No. 13 all-time with 583 doubles. His 1,187 extra-base hits rank seventh, moving Palmeiro out of a tie with Frank Robinson.