'Dehydrated' fears all wet, Palmeiro is pouting power

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Brady Anderson likes to joke that Rafael Palmeiro is the only player in baseball who can sulk his way to 130 RBIs. And before yesterday's game, Palmeiro provided Anderson with more fodder.

Palmeiro asked Orioles trainer Richie Bancells for a product that treats dehydration. Bancells replied that the product is for extreme dehydration only.

"I'm dehydrated, Richie," Palmeiro pleaded. "I've been dehydrated since April 1."

It was typical Palmeiro -- self-deprecation with a touch of self-pity.

"And then," Anderson said, "he moped out of the room."

Palmeiro smiled as he recalled the incident -- "I was joking. I knew Brady would get a laugh out of it," he said. Anderson indeed found the whole thing hilarious, especially after what transpired at Camden Yards.

In his depleted state, Palmeiro somehow hit a game-tying, two-out homer in the eighth inning, then drew a leadoff walk in the 10th and scored the winning run in the Orioles' 5-4 victory over Anaheim.

We all should be so dehydrated.

Palmeiro is on a 34-homer, 105-RBI pace, yet says he's "a little disappointed" with his production, seeing his glass as half-empty, rather than half-full.

That, too, is typical Palmeiro, but for once, he's not simply imagining his thirst. He believes he should have 95 RBIs by now instead of 77, and he's probably right.

He's batting only .238 with runners in scoring position, far below the .324 mark he posted last season. And here's the killer stat -- his .184 average after the sixth inning is the worst in the league.

"That surprises me," Palmeiro said. "Late in games, I really try to relax, not do too much. Maybe this year I've struggled because I'm trying so hard, and gotten myself out."

Palmeiro has had other big late-inning hits -- a game-winning single in Seattle on May 18, a sudden-death homer against the Yankees on June 3. But he hasn't been nearly as clutch as he was last season.

That's the amazing thing about these Orioles -- Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar are contributing less, yet the team is winning more. Aaron Ledesma and Lenny Webster were the other heroes yesterday. With this team, it's always someone.

Palmeiro probably won't approach his '96 production -- a .289 average, 39 homers, 142 RBIs. Manager Davey Johnson said, "he worries too much about everything." Still, the first baseman claims he's having fun.

"I'd love to be doing better, but I couldn't be any happier," Palmeiro said. "Shoot, we're 33 games over .500. And this is probably the best mix of guys I've ever played with.

"This year's team is different than last year's team. Everyone is putting the team first, not worried about individual stats. That's why you see guys giving themselves up, doing the little things.

"We struggled last year, and guys had to put up monster numbers. We had some problems in the clubhouse, minor little things. We weren't as unified as we are this year."

The atmosphere is so invigorating, when a reporter remarked to Geronimo Berroa, "good game today," the refugee from Oakland replied, "it's a good game every day."

Still, Palmeiro isn't always so cheerful.

Hitters never are, when they're struggling.

Orioles hitting coach Rick Down said Palmeiro has such an outstanding track record, he expects almost too much of himself. First base coach John Stearns, however, sees a more tangible problem.

"He looks like he's trying to pull the ball for home runs more," Stearns said. "He's not going to gap to gap. He's more home-run conscious. And you can't premeditate home runs.

"If you start doing that, you get out in front of the ball. And when you do that early in the count, a guy will throw you a splitter or slider, and you'll swing at it. Instead of taking that pitch and being 1-0, you're 0-1."

Stearns has voiced his opinion to Palmeiro, and the first baseman agrees -- to a point.

"He's right, but I haven't been like that all year," Palmeiro said. "I was probably that way early on, but right now I'm trying to hit the ball the other way. I really am, in batting practice and games.

"I'm fighting it off, caught in between. The fastballs go by me. The off-speed pitches, I'm not in front of. There have been situations where I'm up there trying to get a pitch for a home run. But my approach to hitting hasn't changed any from last year."

Whatever, the Orioles aren't exactly worried.

If Palmeiro finished with his current .257 average, it would be the lowest of his 11 full seasons. But Stearns pointed to his team-leading 25 homers and 77 RBIs and said, "A lot of guys would die for those numbers."

Palmeiro agreed.

"I can still end up with 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs," he said. "It's not my typical-type year. But not too many guys can say that's a bad year. I would take that."

Of course he would, but Palmeiro is never satisfied.

If he's not depressed, he's dehydrated.

And if he's not dehydrated, he's determined to return to his '96 form.

"I will get back to that level again," Palmeiro promised. "Before the year is over, I'll get back to where I need to be."

Liquidating opponents.

Drunk with power.

Pub Date: 8/18/97

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