Raffy reaches milestone as O's win

Raffy reaches milestone as O's win

SEATTLE -- For one night, the Orioles' charge for supremacy in the American League East was pushed aside and replaced by a slice of history.

Rafael Palmeiro has long been considered one of the game's premier hitters but he stepped into a different, more prestigious class Friday against the Seattle Mariners. His fifth-inning double into the left-field corner on a 2-2 pitch from Joel Pineiro was his 3,000th hit, making him the 26th player to accomplish that feat.

Palmeiro also became the fourth player to amass 3,000 hits and 500 home runs as the Orioles cruised to a 6-3 win over the Mariners that had few anxious moments.

The storyline Friday was Palmeiro's historic hit, which may have punched his ticket to Cooperstown. The team's focus over the past few weeks had shifted from catching the Boston Red Sox in the AL East to Palmeiro's quest for baseball immortality. He collected 2,999 on Thursday as the Orioles won 5-3.

On Friday, every Palmeiro at-bat was a spectacle. Flash bulbs popped after every pitch, Palmeiro 10-year-old son Preston was filming the moment for local cable television while his 15-year-old son Patrick was a batboy.

Finally, after the Orioles took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning, Palmeiro stepped to the plate with Melvin Mora on second base and one out. He lined a pitch foul into the seats down the right-field line. He then swung at strike two and took two close pitches for balls before hitting a 91 mph fastball to the opposite field for an RBI double and some overdue adulation.

He rounded first base and stopped at second, and first-base coach Rick Dempsey greeted him just after he rose his helmet to the 39,004 who began giving him a standing ovation.

"That was a surprise," he said. "This is one of the great baseball towns in America and we love to come here. These fans have been tremendous throughout my career. It was a little surprising but very nice."

As the crowd was roaring, Palmeiro's teammates spilled onto the field and formed a big circle around their quiet leader. He grabbed Preston and lifted him in the air fighting off tears.

"It was a time you could get goose bumps when you see it," Mazzilli said. "I think it was a touching moment when the guys went on the field to see that. And it was a part of history. You saw history made tonight. I am glad he could do it in the Oriole uniform."

Afterward, Mazzilli led a toast in the clubhouse and every player had a bottle of Domaine Michelle champagne in their locker for celebration.

"He looked like he was ready to go in tears," Mazzilli said. "Obviously he was overwhelmed, especially to have his boys out there with him. It was a special time. Like I said on his quest, he was handling this with nothing but professionalism and class. He's handled it very well. He has that demeanor and personality about him. It didn't seem like he was distracted at all. I told him how proud with the way he handled himself and the way he went about it."

During his postgame press conference, Palmeiro chose to discuss the team's pennant chase. The Orioles have won four of five games and are just one game back of the Red Sox, who beat the Yankees 17-1 on Friday. Palmeiro's double knocked in the team's fourth run and he would later score the fifth on an RBI double by Jay Gibbons.

"I am glad that it's over with," he said. "And we can focus on the season and keep winning games."

In the dugout after he scored the run, he told his teammates, "Let's win the division and make this mean something."

The Orioles played a solid game Friday, taking the lead for good when Melvin Mora hit a solo homer off Pineiro in the first inning. The O's added two more runs in the second when Brian Roberts grounded to first base with the bases loaded to score Luis Matos and Sammy Sosa followed with the first of his three hits to cash in Larry Bigbie.

In the historic fifth inning, Palmeiro scored Mora with his double and later scored.

Rodrigo Lopez appeared on his way to another gem but fatigued quickly. He walked Raul Ibanez with one out in the sixth and then yielded a single to Richie Sexson. Adrian Beltre followed with a ground-rule double to score a run, and Lopez then was removed.

The duo of Tim Byrdak and Jason Grimsley minimized the damage and the Orioles held a 5-3 lead. Sal Fasano would add a key insurance run with a solo homer off Matt Thornton in the eighth, capping a celebratory night for the Orioles. Palmeiro earlier added 3,001 off Shigetoshi Hasegawa in the seventh inning and he passed Roberto Clemente on the all-time hits list.

That holds extra significance because Palmeiro, as a youth, played baseball at Roberto Clemente Park in Miami, where he worked hours on his game. He would have to digest those special moments and memories another time.

"I am going to go get my rest," he said. "We have another game tomorrow."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.