The return of Oriole first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to Texas last Friday didn't turn out as he had expected. A popular player in five standout years with the Rangers, he went 0 for 4, was booed by the crowd and was knocked off the plate by a pitch. By the end of the game Palmeiro couldn't wait to get back to Baltimore.
"The fans really surprised me with the way they booed. It hurt," said Palmeiro, who, by contrast, received curtain calls after homering in each of his first two games at Camden Yards. "The five years here are gone, a waste. The cord's been cut. I still have the fans in Baltimore. They'll support me no matter what."
In his second at bat against Ranger rookie righthander Rick Helling, the lefthanded Palmeiro had to dodge a pitch that sailed behind him. Palmeiro took a step toward the mound, stopped and then turned and yelled at Texas manager Kevin Kennedy in the Ranger dugout. Palmeiro later said he thought Helling's pitch was intentional and implied that it was thrown on orders from Kennedy. Helling and Kennedy both denied his charges.
When he was a free agent after last season, Palmeiro wanted to sign a multiyear contract with the Rangers and was even building a new home in Colleyville, about 10 miles from The Ballpark in Arlington, in expectation of remaining with the team. But when Palmeiro and Texas couldn't agree on the terms of a contract, the Rangers signed another free-agent first baseman, Will Clark, instead, and Palmeiro went ballistic.
He called Clark, a former Mississippi State teammate, a "lowlife" (Palmeiro later apologized) and ripped the Texas organization (he hasn't apologized). Among his salvos against the Rangers was the claim that they were trying to unload Latin players. That charge, says a club source, infuriated Kennedy—Texas has six Latins on its roster, including Juan Gonzalez, who was signed to a $45 million contract in February—and perhaps led to Helling's purpose pitch. "It's impossible to throw a pitch there unintentionally," Oriole manager John Oates said. "It's [Helling's] own malice or someone else's."
On Saturday, before the second game of the weekend series, Palmeiro and Kennedy had an animated conversation concerning the incident. Kennedy told him that the Rangers weren't throwing at him; Palmeiro eventually accepted the explanation and shook hands with his former manager. That night in a game the Orioles won 6-4, Palmeiro homered off his good friend Kenny Rogers. The ball sailed over a banner in the upper deck in right that read RAFAEL: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.
An Inside Job
Most baseball brawls start for ridiculous reasons, but the cause of the first fight of the 1994 season was the most ludicrous in years. On April 13 the Expos' Pedro Martinez was throwing a perfect game against the Reds when, with one out in the eighth, his 0-and-2 pitch hit Reggie Sanders on the elbow. Sanders charged the mound, and both benches emptied. After a delay of several minutes, Sanders was ejected. Did he really think Martinez would hit him intentionally in the midst of throwing a perfecto? It just shows how touchy hitters are about being backed off the plate.
Martinez twice had buzzed Sanders under the chin earlier in the game, but he clearly wasn't throwing at him in the eighth. Even some of Sanders's teammates came to the defense of Martinez. "I doubt very much he tried to hit Reggie," said Cincinnati pitcher Jose Rijo. "That's the way you've got to pitch," said Red catcher Brian Dorsett. "You've got to bust them in and keep them honest."
Dorsett broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff single in the ninth, and Expo pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said the brawl might have cost Martinez his pitching gem. With the count 1 and 2 on Dorsett, Martinez was supposed to throw a fastball on the inside part of the plate. However, Martinez had received a warning from the umpires after hitting Sanders, and a pitch thrown too close to a hitter could have meant an automatic ejection. The pitch wound up on the outside corner, and Dorsett drilled it up the middle past shortstop Wil Cordero, who was playing Dorsett to pull.
Everyone's a Critic
Reserve shortstop David Howard of the Royals is the son of former big league pitcher Bruce Howard and was a good pitcher himself in high school. On April 12, when Kansas City trailed Boston 21-8 after seven innings, he volunteered to pitch. He went the final two innings, allowed two hits and one run, walked five and struck out none.
The next day, on the phone, David asked Bruce if he'd seen him pitch. "He said, 'Uh, I saw it on satellite,' " David says. "I said, 'I guess you weren't pleased.' He said, 'Well, you walked five.' I said, 'Dad, I couldn't get the right release point.' He said, 'You kept the ball in the glove too long, and you weren't picking up the catcher's target quickly enough.' I said, 'Dad, I haven't pitched in nine years—give me a break!' "
Howard also came to bat as a pitcher twice, doubling in a run in the the ninth. "It was so weird, when I walked to the plate, they announced, 'pitcher David Howard,' " he says. "Then I thought, How many American League pitchers have gotten a hit since the DH rule? I'm a trivia answer."
Howard also made dubious history by giving up a single to Scott Cooper, who needed that hit to complete a cycle. "I started him out with two change-ups, then all their guys started yelling at me from the bench," says Howard. "I had no idea what they were yelling about. I didn't know about the cycle."
Dusty Baker of the Giants is among the game's best managers for many reasons, one being that he's fearless. On April 12 he pinch-hit for his starting pitcher, Mark Portugal, with the bases loaded in the top of the fourth inning and his team trailing the Braves 3-0. Portugal, who had allowed two earned runs, walked one and struck out four, had not lost since last July. He was 18-4 last year. He was the Giants' big free-agent signing of the winter. Yet Baker pulled his starter, without worrying about the possible repercussions from the fans or the media or even Portugal. He did what he felt was right. It didn't matter that pinch hitter Dave Martinez hit a three-run double to tie the score and that the Giants went on to win. The point is that unlike most managers, Baker wasn't afraid to make a gutsy move. "I didn't like coming out," Portugal said, "but I'm not going to rant and rave about it. The bottom line is that we won, so Dusty made the right move."...In just five games against the Cubs this season, Met second baseman Jeff Kent has had four homers and 14 RBIs. By comparison, he had three homers and 14 RBIs after two months of last season, but he went on to finish with 21 homers and 80 RBIs.... Infielder Tony Fernandez of the Reds has been complaining about making only $500,000 this year, a $1.8 million pay cut from last year. Apparently it hasn't sunk in that if the Reds hadn't signed him in March, he might still be sitting home in the Dominican Republic—unemployed. In the off-season Fernandez, 31, turned down a one-year, $2.3 million offer to return to the Blue Jays and then found no other takers willing to match that sum. Sensing that Fernandez's bad mood was bothering the rest of his players, Cincinnati manager Davey Johnson held a 40-minute, closed-door meeting with Fernandez to stroke his bruised psyche. Said one Cincinnati player, "The man is complaining about how his uniform fits, his bats not being here, his shoes, his knees—everything. I don't understand why they didn't give the third base job to [22-year-old] Willie Greene in the first place."
Palmeiro, dislodged in Texas by Clark (right), got a fickle welcome from Ranger fans.
Under the circumstances, Sanders's attack on Martinez was perfectly ridiculous.
Between the Lines
A Ringing in His Ear. Last Friday night in Seattle, Brewer outfielder Matt Mieske was hit in the helmet by a fastball thrown by Mariner fireballer Randy Johnson. Mieske stayed in the game and escaped with only a headache, a knot on his head and the blue lettering from the baseball stamped on his helmet as a reminder. "That's as horrific as it gets," said Mieske. "As soon as it left his hand, I knew I had no chance to get out of the way." Mieske said he was awakened the next morning by a phone call. "I answered the bell," he said. "I was alive." Another startling call came later: The Brewers phoned to tell him he was being shipped to Triple A New Orleans.
Nice Work If You Can Get It. Indian pitcher Derek Lilliquist was credited with a win on April 13, though he did not retire a batter. He entered a tie game with two outs in the ninth and the Angels' Rex Hudler on first. Lilliquist got a 1-and-2 count on Chris Turner before Hudler was thrown out trying to steal. Cleveland scored in the top of the 10th for a 6-5 lead, and Lilliquist was replaced by Matt Turner, who pitched a scoreless 10th for the save. "It was pretty odd," Lilliquist said. "I heard talk about vultures afterwards."