Hot or cold, Palmeiro swings on


MINNEAPOLIS -- A slump can poison the mind, and going into the All-Star break, Rafael Palmeiro was in the worst slump of his career. No hits in 24 at-bats, almost a week without a hit.

But to his teammates, he never appeared ruffled. Palmeiro just seemed to assume that one day, he would start hitting again, and keep on hitting. Which is exactly what happened.

Since the All-Star break, Palmeiro has hit in eight straight games and is batting .367, with five homers and nine RBIs. His streak of hitting homers in four straight games ended yesterday, but he had an RBI double, and he has 20 homers and 56 RBIs for the year. At his current pace, he'll finish the 144-game season with 37 homers and 105 RBIs.

"He's the type of hitter who's not going to go down for long periods of time," said utility man Jeff Huson, who played with Palmeiro in Texas and now is his teammate with the Orioles. "He's so fluid in everything he does. With that swing, he never has to worry."

Different hitters handle slumps differently. Philadelphia's Gregg Jefferies has contended for batting titles and he's a former All-Star, but when in a slide, he'll punctuate almost every at-bat by slamming his helmet or ramming his bat into the bat rack. When Andy Van Slyke was struggling for the Orioles in May, he often bounced his helmet off the ground.

During Palmeiro's slide, Huson said, the first baseman's demeanor "never changed." Palmeiro hardly acknowledged the slump, other than with a few, soft self-deprecating jokes. When told that injured first baseman Mark McGwire had withdrawn from the AL All-Star team and that he might be considered as a replacement, Palmeiro said, joking, "I can't go. I can't remember the last time I got a hit. I can't go to the All-Star Game going 0-for-24."

Orioles hitting instructor Lee May said: "If you believe you can hit, then you're going to hit. If you believe you're going to hit, good things are going to happen."

Huson theorized that when prolific and consistent hitters such as Palmeiro go into slumps, "they don't know how to get out of it."

Palmeiro acknowledged that he was doing something wrong during his hitless streak. "But that's in the past," he said. Onward and upward.

Palmeiro was asked if his hitless streak concerned him. "Yeah," he replied sarcastically. "I was thinking about retiring. What do you think?"

Uh, that would be a no. As Lee May said, when you're a good hitter like Palmeiro, worry isn't part of the equation.

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