BALTIMORE — Rafael Palmeiro doesn’t want his charge toward 3,000 hits to get in the way of his primary goal, which is helping the Baltimore Orioles stay in contention in the American League East.
So he addressed both objectives yesterday with a prolific offensive display.
Palmeiro homered, drove in six runs and moved within three hits of 3,000 as Baltimore beat the Boston Red Sox 9-1 with the aid of a sensational catch by center fielder Luis Matos.
Palmeiro put the Orioles ahead for good with a three-run homer in the third inning. He also hit a first-inning sacrifice fly, an RBI single in the seventh and a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
His 2-for-3 performance brought him to the brink of joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
“I’m just trying to get it over with so we can focus on winning games,” Palmeiro said. “This is good. We picked up a game on the Red Sox, which is what we’re trying to do.”
Miguel Tejada went 5-for-5 and Bruce Chen (7-5) allowed one run and five hits in seven-plus innings for the Orioles, who won for only the fourth time in 16 games to move within three games of the first-place Red Sox. Chen struck out five and walked three in earning his second victory in nine starts since May18.
Palmeiro hopes to end his pursuit of 3,000 hits at home today against the Red Sox.
“It would be nice. I would love it do it, just for the sake of the fans,” he said. “If not, it will be on the road, I guess.”
Baltimore closes out the first half today, then plays 10 straight games on the road after the All-Star break.
Boston will send knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to the mound in the series finale.
“Three bunts,” Palmeiro said with a grin.
Johnny Damon went 2-for-5 to extend his career-best hitting streak to 24 games, and Edgar Renteria drove in the lone run for the Red Sox.
With the score 1-1 in the third inning, Boston’s David Ortiz hit a drive to center with two on and two outs. Matos ran to the wall, reached over the 7-foot barrier and snared the ball at the apex of his leap.
He came crashing to the ground, but upon rising flipped the ball from his mitt to his bare hand. Chen thrust both arms upward in appreciation, and many in the sellout crowd of 49,331 roared their approval.
“With the crowd that we had today and the importance of the game, it was fun,” Matos said. “I got goose bumps after I caught it.”
Said Chen: “It was a home run, and then it’s three outs and nobody scored. It was unbelievable.”
In the bottom half, Palmeiro followed singles by Brian Roberts and Tejada with a shot off Wade Miller (2-3) that cleared the 25-foot scoreboard in right. It was his second homer in as many games, 14th of the season and 565th of his career.
“I know the score ended up being lopsided,” Boston manager Terry Francona said, “but it’s amazing, a couple swings of the bat made the difference. David Ortiz hits one pitch and they bring it back in, you take three off the board. And the next inning Raffy hits a three-run homer. It’s a six-run swing.”
Tejada had two doubles, a triple and two singles. Needing a homer in the eighth inning to hit for the cycle, he hit an RBI double to right to match a career high in hits.
After Palmeiro gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead, Boston tied it in the third when Trot Nixon hit a leadoff double, advanced on an infield hit by Damon and scored on a two-out single by Renteria. Matos ended the uprising by robbing Ortiz of his 22nd home run.
“That’s a heck of a catch. There’s nothing else you can do about it,” Ortiz said. “He told me the other day, make sure that when you hit a ball over my head, that you hit it out.”
Boston didn’t get another hit until the eighth.
Miller gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings. The right-hander is 0-2 in seven starts since May30, when he beat the Orioles at Fenway Park.
Palmeiro hit an RBI single and B.J. Surhoff doubled in a run off John Halama in the seventh. In the eighth, Larry Bigbie tripled and scored on Eli Whiteside’s first major league hit, a bloop single, before Tejada completed his perfect afternoon at the plate and Palmeiro added a sacrifice fly.
Notes — Chen’s seven wins tie a career high set in 2001 with Philadelphia and the New York Mets. … Thousands of Red Sox fans were among the fourth-largest crowd in the 14-year history of Camden Yards. … Boston’s Mark Bellhorn went 0-for-3 against Chen and is 0-for-11 lifetime against the left-hander.