Palmeiro: 'I couldn't believe' being lifted First baseman strands 3 in scoring position

October 16, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

This was the fourth straight year in which Rafael Palmeiro led the Orioles in RBIs, and it was the third season in that span in which he led the team in home runs.

His bat wasn't so big in the postseason, but Palmeiro was as shocked as anyone when he was lifted from a scoreless American League Championship Series sixth game against the Cleveland Indians in the eighth inning last night.

With one out, Palmeiro was hit by a Charles Nagy pitch. Manager Davey Johnson promptly sent in pinch runner Jeffrey Hammonds, and pulled his No. 5 hitter out of the lineup.

"I couldn't believe it," said Palmeiro, who alluded to treatment he's received for a leg injury. "I was fine, but I guess he [Johnson] thought my leg was hurting more than it was. He was going for the win, and Jeffrey got the stolen base."

Palmeiro was visibly displeased when he was removed from the game, but he was able to joke with Johnson after the steal by Hammonds, who nonetheless got no farther than third base as the Orioles' power shortage -- and absence of a clutch hit of any kind -- continued through the sixth game and elimination.

Hammonds struck out swinging in his only plate appearance, in the 10th inning, and it pained Palmeiro that he didn't get another cut. He wanted to make amends for his first three appearances, when he ended three budding rallies and stranded five runners, three in scoring position.

"I'm not used to being in a situation like that," Palmeiro said of finishing the season on the bench. "I'm used to being in there, but he [Johnson] had to do it. That was right, going for the win."

Palmeiro had three weak at-bats on his first three trips, befuddled by an assortment of Nagy junk.

"Our whole approach was to get to him early," Palmeiro said of the Indians' starter, who was lifted after Hammonds' steal and a walk to Cal Ripken. "He didn't give in. You've got to give him credit."

Nagy was reached for nine hits, but none by Palmeiro.

First inning: The Camden Yards faithful, chastened to make as much noise as the fans in Cleveland, were rocking when Geronimo Berroa doubled with two outs and Harold Baines drew a walk. Up came Palmeiro, and down went the Orioles, as he struck out to end the rally.

Third inning: Roberto Alomar reached third base with two outs, but never got any farther, as Palmeiro ended that inning with a pop-up to the third baseman.

Fifth inning: Berroa and Baines put together a pair of two-out singles. It was one more chance for Palmeiro to satisfy the crowd and ease some of the tension in the Orioles' dugout, but that at-bat was as futile as the previous two, as he hit a tapper back to Nagy.

To Palmeiro, Nagy's mastery of him was just the continuation of an unfulfilling October, and a postseason he would like to forget.

"I don't think it was my swing, they just had me off-balance the whole time," Palmeiro said of the Indians' pitchers. "I made adjustments up there, but it wasn't enough. Look at every at-bat I've had, their whole approach was to get ahead of me, and get me out with off-speed stuff."

In 10 games against the Seattle Mariners and Indians, Palmeiro hit .270. He had just two RBIs.

He had the last of the Orioles' three home runs in the third inning of Game 4 against the Indians, but Baltimore lost that one in the bottom of the ninth. Palmeiro got the Orioles going in Game 2, as he got on base to start both of their two-run rallies, but Cleveland took that one with a three-run homer in the top of the eighth.

"This was very frustrating," Palmeiro said. "We had so many chances. We just didn't hit as well as we're capable."

A hit in any of Palmeiro's first three appearances yesterday, and the Orioles might be playing today, instead of going home. He wasn't alone in his inability to deliver in the clutch, as the Orioles stranded 14 runners, along with their hopes for their first World Series in 14 years.

"It wasn't just me," Palmeiro said.

Unfinished work

Rafael Palmeiro, who led the Orioles in RBIs during the regular season, had none during the Division Series and came up mostly empty during the Championship Series, too. A look at his play in the ALCS:

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Left in scoring

Gm. .. ..Res. .. ..RBI .. .. .. .. .position

1 .. ..W, 3-0 .. ...0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .1

2 .. ..L, 5-4 .. ...0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .2

3 .. ..L, 2-1 .. .. 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .3

4 .. ..L, 8-7 .. ...2 .. .. .. .. .. .. ....0

5 .. ..W, 4-2 .. ...0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .0

6 .. ..L, 1-0 .. ...0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .3

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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