Brian Roberts looked like a sick man as he sat in front of his locker yesterday morning at Camden Yards. His expression was pained, his steps to the trainers' room deliberate. He acted as though the slightest movements could drop him to the floor.
Then the game began, and the Orioles' second baseman reverted to leadoff hitter in an 8-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Roberts went 2-for-4 with a double, raising his average to .264. He has been bothered by a head cold for two days but had no intention of missing the game.
"I feel weak, but we've got too many guys hurt," he said. "You've got to play with stuff and deal with it."
Roberts' six-game hitting streak ended Saturday when he went 0-for-1 with two walks and a sacrifice bunt. But he has gone 10-for-28 (.357) in his past eight games, and has hit safely in 26 of his past 32 with 18 doubles.
"I'm definitely more comfortable at the plate," he said. "Me and Bigs [Larry Bigbie] were just talking about this. You go through phases where you're not as comfortable, but you try to keep them as short as possible."
Palmeiro back in swing
Rafael Palmeiro's run-scoring double in the second inning moved him into 37th place on the all-time hits list with 2,867, breaking a tie with former Oriole Harold Baines.
"It's nice and all," he said, "but I'm not keeping up with that stuff."
Palmeiro went 2-for-4, making him 14-for-46 (.304) since the All-Star break. He has hit safely in 10 of 12 games, a sign that his slump is beginning to lift.
"When you have a guy that's a Hall of Famer, you'd think that he's going to come into his own," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You always have that confidence that he would. And I think moving him down at times in the order, flip-flopping him with Javy [Lopez], is good.
"Raffy's a gamer. He wants to play every day. I think when you go through that stretch sometimes, no matter who you are, you try to do too much."
Garcia's rough trip
To chronicle Karim Garcia's trip around the bases Saturday, just scan the marks on his body.
The bridge of Garcia's nose was bruised and swollen after Twins shortstop Nick Punto accidentally kicked him on a play at second base in the seventh inning. Garcia also had a bright-red scrape just below his right knee, and a larger scrape on his shin from sliding into second and third.
It almost made the collision at home plate seem mild by comparison.
Garcia reached on a pinch-hit single and took second when pitcher Joe Roa fielded a bunt and threw wide of the base. That's when Punto's right foot slammed into Garcia's face.
"It didn't feel very good," he said, "but I knew it wasn't broken."
Garcia moved to third on Roberts' bunt and scored on a fly ball from David Newhan. Torii Hunter's bouncing throw from center field arrived in time, but catcher Matt LeCroy lost control of the ball before Garcia plowed into him.
"The ball beat me clearly, so I was trying to knock it out of his hands," Garcia said.
Mazzilli returned Garcia to the lineup yesterday, soreness and all. His sacrifice fly produced a run in the fourth.
"They're just little bruises," Garcia said. "I've played through those before."
Smith can throw again
The Orioles expect former No. 1 draft pick Chris Smith, a left-hander out of Cumberland (Tenn.) University, to resume pitching in early August after being shut down with tightness in his surgically repaired shoulder.
Smith was removed from his fourth start at short-season Single-A Aberdeen after facing five batters. The initial prognosis had him missing one or two starts, but the shoulder tightened again and required a cortisone injection last week.
"He got immediate relief, which is a good sign," said Doc Rodgers, director of minor league operations. "He'll start tossing again shortly. I talked to him Monday night in Aberdeen and he said it feels great and he can't wait to start throwing again."
Smith, who hasn't pitched since July 7, missed the 2003 season while rehabilitating from surgery on his rotator cuff. He made five appearances at Rookie-level Bluefield in 2002.
Smith is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 1/3 innings at Aberdeen.