ANAHEIM, Calif. - Sammy Sosa knows what everybody is thinking.
The subject was steroids yesterday, and it drifted to Sosa's locker in a corner of the visiting clubhouse at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, encased in questions regarding Rafael Palmeiro's 10-day suspension for violating Major League Baseball's anti-drug policy. There's no masking agent for the obvious.
Palmeiro and Sosa were mentioned in Jose Canseco's tell-all book. They testified before Congress in March. Their names have been linked since the winter, and separating them became more difficult after Palmeiro's suspension was revealed Monday.
Sosa shooed away two reporters who approached him before batting practice, saying he might talk later, on his own terms. He consented to an interview a short time later, knowing the topic at hand and its implications. He almost seemed resigned to it.
Palmeiro said he must have ingested something, perhaps a protein supplement, that caused him to test positive for steroids. He warned others to be more careful about what they put in their bodies.
Sosa figures he doesn't have to proceed with such caution.
"I don't have that problem, OK?" he said defiantly. "My situation is I eat well and I get my rest. This is my philosophy. I don't use that stuff. Chicken, rice and beans. That's my protein."
Like other players in the clubhouse, Sosa expressed sympathy for Palmeiro and offered to stand beside him, even in the first baseman's absence. The team's cleanup hitter was gone. No way was he forgotten.
"Hopefully he can get through this and come back," Sosa said. "It's tough. What can you say? But no matter what happened, we're teammates, we're family. And you support him through the good times and the bad times."
The good times included his 3,000th hit on July 15, allowing him to join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players in that fraternity who also have 500 home runs. The bad could bring an entire team to its knees.
"It was a big surprise," catcher Sal Fasano said. "We all felt a little bit of everything. When something like this happens, you feel heartbroken. We can't afford to lose him, but we have to move on."
Fasano spent most of Monday's pre-game period in the bullpen, so he wasn't aware of Palmeiro's absence at Camden Yards. Other players noticed right away and knew of the suspension before manager Lee Mazzilli informed them in the clubhouse after another defeat and before he read a statement from Palmeiro.
"You hear things. Word spreads quickly, especially with teammates," Jay Gibbons said. "I was sad more than anything. Things have been so nice for him lately."
"I don't want to be in his shoes right now," Melvin Mora said. "The thing I feel sorry about are his babies, his sons. That's the hard part.
"We have to support him. That's what a team is all about. When somebody is down, you have to support them 100 percent."
Players weren't demanding an explanation or passing judgment. They just wanted a better understanding of what happened, at the appropriate time.
"When he comes back, we'll treat him the same way," Miguel Tejada said. "Anybody can make a mistake in this game. He didn't kill anybody.
"I'm sad for him. I feel sorry for him. But I'm not mad at him. I'm mad because I know what kind of guy Raffy is. He's not a bad guy."
Tejada must follow Sosa's recipe because he also said that his protein intake comes from chicken, rice and beans. No supplements, no risks, no misunderstandings.
"My body is fine. I don't need it and I don't take it," he said.
The Texas Rangers called off a ceremony honoring Palmeiro this weekend, the official reason being that the suspension has removed him from the team for the three-game series. The Orioles have been making plans for an Aug. 14 ceremony at Camden Yards that no longer is definite.
"We'll wait a few days and gauge the temperature," a team official said.
Mora hopes that fans in Baltimore embrace Palmeiro when he returns for an Aug. 11 game against the Tampa Bay Devils, appreciating what he's done for the game, forgiving whatever mistake was made.
"I don't know what the reaction is going to be," he said.
"People have to know what all these big guys - Raffy, [Barry] Bonds - have done for the game. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, they brought baseball back to the fans. If it wasn't for those guys, baseball would have gone down."