Palmeiro hits big time In first pennant race, Orioles slugger finally

gets national exposure

September 12, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

This could be the season that finally earns Rafael Palmeiro national attention.

Palmeiro already has shattered his season high for RBIs with 130, and his 35 homers is four shy of his career best. But in the past his individual statistics alone were overlooked.

The difference this year is that the Orioles are winning.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson said he believes Palmeiro will get some consideration for the American League Most Valuable Player Award this year, though he concedes Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez is a more worthy choice.

The top 10 finalists get recognized for the MVP award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. A case could be made that Palmeiro is among the 10 best hitters this year.

He's third in the league in RBIs, and needs just 12 more to break Jim Gentile's Orioles record set in 1961. Palmeiro is sixth in the AL with 313 total bases and eighth with 51 multi-hit games. He's tied for fifth in the league with 75 extra-base hits, plus he's got a solid .295 batting average.

"I think if you look at his numbers in the '90s and compare them to anybody else's numbers in the '90s, he's as good as anybody," Johnson said. "You have to be on teams that win to really get national recognition. Then you start getting national attention.

"If the Orioles had won a couple of pennants during his tenure, he'd probably have gotten an MVP award. But generally until you get that national attention or until your team gets it, it's very hard to get a lot of votes."

This is Palmeiro's first real pennant race. Palmeiro's teams have a combined winning percentage of .497, beginning with the 1986 Chicago Cubs. The 1993 Texas Rangers won 86 games, the most wins by a team Palmeiro was a member of, and even they were far from pennant contenders.

Palmeiro is thriving as the Orioles race for a postseason spot. He's hitting .339 in his past 31 games with seven homers, 11 doubles, 21 runs scored and 35 RBIs. Palmeiro has hit four homers in his past seven games.

"I like the spot," Palmeiro said. "Coming up and being in the lineup in games that mean a lot. I like the opportunity to hit in the clutch. It's fun to be in a pennant race for a change.

"It's exciting. You look forward to going to the ballpark. I thought we would be in one in 1994, and we were, and then the strike came in. Last year was disappointing. I've been looking forward to this for a while."

Palmeiro said he hasn't changed his approach at all in September and he isn't putting added pressure on himself either. As for his statistics, that's something Palmeiro would prefer to talk about after the season.

However, he wouldn't mind getting a little individual acclaim if it coincided with a trip to the playoffs.

"There's a lot of great players having great years," Palmeiro said. "There's some guys having better years than me. But to even be considered for the MVP award is an honor.

"It would be a team honor, too, I guess, to win an MVP. I think about it, but a lot of things have to go right. If it happens, it happens."

Red-hot Raffy

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro has been one of the Orioles' hottest hitters over the past seven games, hitting .467 during that span:

Date .. Opp .. AB .. R .. H .. HR .. RBI

9/4 ... Cal. .. 4 .. 1 .. 1 ... 1 .. . 2

9/6 ... Det. .. 6 .. 1 .. 2 ... 1 .. . 1

9/7 ... Det. .. 4 .. 1 .. 2 ... 0 .. . 2

9/8 ... Det. .. 3 .. 1 .. 2 ... 1 .. . 3

9/9 ... Det. .. 4 .. 1 .. 2 ... 0 .. . 0

9/10 .. Chi. .. 4 .. 2 .. 3 ... 1 .. . 2

9/11 .. Chi. .. 5 .. 1 .. 2 ... 0 .. . 0

Tot. .. .. ... 30 .. 8 . 14 ... 4 ... 10

Wild-card rules

How to determine the matchups for the first round of the American League playoffs:

The Central and West champions will have home-field advantage.

The better record of the Central and West champions will play the wild card.

If the wild card comes from the Central or West, it will play the champion not in its division.

The Central and West champions will not meet.

Scenarios

If the wild card is from the Central, it would play the West champion. The East champion would play the Central champion.

If the wild card is from the East, it would play the team with the best record between the Central and West champions. The East champion would play the team with the second-best record BTC between the Central and West champs.

If the wild card is from the West, it would play the Central champion. The West champ would play the East champ.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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