- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2005

SEATTLE — The crowd at Safeco Field was roaring, yet Rafael Palmeiro never heard all those cheers when he rounded first base after his 3,000th hit.

“I was numb going around the bases. I don’t remember much,” he said after the Baltimore Orioles beat the Seattle Mariners 6-3.

That fifth-inning RBI double Friday night cemented his place in history.

The 40-year-old Baltimore slugger, who also has 566 career home runs, joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

In the interview room late Friday, Palmeiro tried to distance himself by noting that Aaron (755) hit nearly 200 more home runs and Mays (660) has him beat by almost 100.

“Those guys belong in a group by themselves,” he said. “I shouldn’t even be near them.”

The Cuban-born Palmeiro — the only left-handed hitter among the four — also insisted he never targeted the Hall of Fame, though that’s likely where he’s headed.

“I’ve never played this game for the fanfare, to get attention,” he said. “I played this game because I loved it the very first time I played when I was 9 years old.”

Palmeiro became the 26th player with 3,000 hits, tying Roberto Clemente for 25th place on baseball’s list. He passed Clemente with a sixth-inning single.

Appropriately, Palmeiro played as a youth in Miami at a sports complex named after Clemente.

“That was a long time ago,” Palmeiro said, laughing. “I haven’t had time to reflect on all that. I’m sure I will. Right now, I just want to enjoy the moment.”

It’s also fitting that Palmeiro’s milestone hit — an outside fastball from Joel Pineiro that curled into the left corner — was important in the win. It put Baltimore up 4-1.

Jay Gibbons followed with another RBI double, scoring Palmeiro to make it 5-1.

“I was just trying to drive the runner in,” Palmeiro said. “I was trying to do my thing, keep it simple. I did what I had to do, and it was my 3,000th hit.”

Palmeiro’s son, Preston, videotaped the events, and another son, Patrick, served as Baltimore’s batboy. Both rushed the field from the dugout when the Orioles ran out to congratulate Palmeiro.

“Raffy accomplished something great tonight,” teammate Sammy Sosa said. “He went out there and battled for many, many years. Today, he got to a place not many people can — 3,000 hits is a lot. I’m very happy for him.”

Palmeiro said he enjoyed the moment, but he’s clearly been uncomfortable with the hoopla leading up to it. He always has been one of the game’s quiet stars.

“I guess I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “Now we can focus on playing the season and try to keep winning games.”

Besides moving up on the career hits list, Palmeiro also tied Robin Yount for No.13 with 583 doubles. His 1,187 extra-base hits rank seventh, breaking a tie with Frank Robinson. Palmeiro is within range of No.6 Lou Gehrig (1,190).

“It was inevitable that he was going to do it,” Texas manager Buck Showalter said. “He spent a long time in the game, and he’s a consistent performer. He really puts up the numbers.”

There’s one thing Palmeiro hasn’t accomplished — a World Series appearance. He noted that he played on six straight losing teams, and he hopes this could be a special year in Baltimore.

“I just want to focus on winning,” Palmeiro said. “We’re trailing the Red Sox by one game. Those guys are going to get better, and so are the Yankees.”

Asked to analyze his place in history, he said he would defer to baseball writers. But the rest of his answer suggested he’s hungry to get deep into the postseason.

“There’s been some great players in this era — guys like Mark McGwire and Mo Vaughn,” Palmeiro said. “A lot of great players deserve the attention they got. They made it to the playoffs and won championships. I didn’t. That’s the way it goes.”

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