Rafael Palmeiro wanted to play in this year's All-Star Game. He wanted to go back to Texas, where he used to be the first baseman, and be honored among the game's best -- the inherent inference being that the Rangers had made a mistake in letting him go.
But Palmeiro made the mistake of playing the same position as Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire and Mo Vaughn, and was left off the AL team Sunday. He keeps putting up All-Star type numbers, though: Last night, he hit two homers in the Orioles' 9-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins before a sellout crowd of 46,560 at Oriole Park.
Mike Mussina (8-5) surrendered a 3-0 lead, but pitched %o effectively enough to pick up the win. The Orioles, who've won 10 of their past 15, remained seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox.
Back in May, in Oakland, Orioles pitcher Kevin Brown and Palmeiro and Athletics right fielder Ruben Sierra talked about making the AL All-Star team together. The All-Star dreams of the ex-Texas trio fell apart because of injury, anger and circumstance: Brown had the tip of his index finger dislocated, Sierra is feuding with his manager, Tony La Russa, and Palmeiro -- well, he's just unlucky enough to play the same position as Thomas, McGwire and Vaughn.
When AL manager Buck Showalter was in Baltimore two weeks ago, he acknowledged that he had a tough decision to make. What, he asked rhetorically, about their guy, referring to Palmeiro.
In the end, he took three first basemen. Palmeiro was left out. Orioles manager Phil Regan said he thought his first baseman would be on the team.
"I thought he should've been," Regan said. "He's been a consistent player for us all year. He's an All-Star for me."
Palmeiro had resigned himself to the fact that he would not be an All-Star, and he had no beef with Showalter's selections.
"I'm disappointed I didn't make it," he said. "But the guys who made it had better halves [first half of the season] than I did. . . . I felt that the way McGwire and Vaughn were hitting homers just about every day, it would be hard not to take them.
"You can only take so many first basemen. Cecil Fielder had 19, 20 homers, and he didn't make it. . . . It wasn't meant to be for me. No biggie."
He was big for the Orioles last night, when they won despite not playing particularly well. Regan acknowledged after the game that early in the year, this was one the Orioles might've lost.
Harold Baines was picked off second with no outs and the Orioles down a run, and second baseman Manny Alexander and right fielder Kevin Bass let a fly ball drop between them. A 3-0 lead became a 4-3 deficit.
But the Orioles didn't concede, despite some frustrating scoring attempts against Twins starter Kevin Tapani (4-9).
Maybe, Regan said, the club's enthusiasm is better. "There's a ++ feeling that this club has that they can come back and win. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think we had it early in the year, and we have it right now."
When Palmeiro came to bat in the seventh, with the score tied at 4, he already had homered. With Curtis Goodwin (2-for-3, three ++ runs) on first and two outs, Palmeiro blasted a two-run shot over the right-field scoreboard, his 15th of the year.
He had homered in the first inning, to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead, and they added more in the third.
Chris Hoiles singled to left, and Goodwin hit what appeared to be a possible double-play ball up the middle, within reach of Twins shortstop Pat Meares. Either Meares was screened by second base umpire Larry McCoy, or he just reacted poorly, because the bouncer got past him. Hoiles stopped at second on Goodwin's hit.
Brady Anderson flied to center, deep enough for Hoiles to move to third. Goodwin stole second, and then Alexander -- the hero of Sunday's comeback victory over the Blue Jays -- pulled a broken-bat grounder down the third base line.
Twins third baseman Scott Stahoviak went down as he tried to backhand the ball, like a hockey goalie, but he couldn't keep it from rolling into left field. Hoiles and Goodwin scored, Alexander's 11th and 12th RBIs in the Orioles' last eight games. (He would add another in the three-run eighth.)
Alexander had gone to second when Twins left fielder Marty Cordova mistakenly tried to throw out Goodwin at home, and he stole third. But with the infield in, Palmeiro hit a weak grounder to second, and Alexander had to hold his ground. Cal Ripken grounded out, ending the inning.
A three-run lead with Mussina pitching is normally a sure thing. Normally.
Last night, the Twins overcame the three-run deficit, taking a lead. Kirby Puckett singled, and Cordova hammered a two-run homer to left, the 17th home run allowed by Mussina this year. Stahoviak singled and Scott Leius blooped a double to right.
Stahoviak scored when Dan Mestaller grounded to second, Leius advancing to third. The Orioles held off the tying run momentarily when Meares grounded to third with the infield in, but Mussina hurt himself by walking catcher Matt Walbeck, a .226 hitter.
Walbeck, with no stolen bases this season, broke for second with Chuck Knoblauch hitting, and as Hoiles threw high, Leius raced home. Walbeck was safe at second, with his first steal of the year; it was the second steal of '95 for Leius. The Twins led 4-3.
The Orioles came back, however. They have just one All-Star, Ripken. But as Mussina said: "I hope that this team is focused on getting to the playoffs, not getting to the All-Star Game. Raffy knows that, and since he's not going, now we're going to work that much harder on getting into the playoffs."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Time: 5:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Scott Erickson (3-6, 6.44) vs. Orioles' Scott Klingenbeck (2-1, 4.97)
Tickets: 8,600 remain
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: The Orioles' Brady Anderson claimed to get hit by a pitched ball in the first inning, taking off to first without getting a call from plate umpire John Hirschbeck. But Hirschbeck called him back, and Anderson eventually struck out. In the fifth inning, Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani did hit Anderson, in the back, and Anderson picked up the ball and flipped it back to the mound, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.
In the dugout: Both managers played the infield in during the early innings, and both times it paid off. The Orioles had a runner at third and one out in the third inning, and when Rafael Palmeiro grounded to second, Manny Alexander had to stay at third. The inning ended when Cal Ripken grounded out. The Orioles' infield came in with one out in the fourth, Scott Leius on third, when Pat Meares hit a grounder to third; Leius had to stay on the bag as Jeff Huson looked him back and threw to first.
In the clubhouse: "I pitched in the World Series out of the bullpen, but that was just mop-up stuff." -- Orioles left-hander Sid Fernandez, lamenting his switch from the rotation to the bullpen