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Hitting his mark

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SEATTLE - The list is so impressive that it humbles a likely first-ballotHall of Fame player.

Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro recites the names - Hank Aaron,Willie Mays, Eddie Murray - and says he doesn't belong in their class. But arun-scoring double last night put him on the roll call.

Palmeiro became only the fourth player to accumulate 500 home runs and3,000 hits in a career when he lined a fastball from Joel Pineiro into theleft-field corner with one out in the fifth inning in the Orioles' 6-3 victoryover the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, ending a wait that seemed muchlonger to the man who endured it.

Players from both teams leaned on the dugout railings as Palmeiro came tothe plate, his first two at-bats resulting in a walk and a groundout. He lineda 2-2 pitch the opposite way, the ball bouncing in front of the fence, toscore Melvin Mora at 11:26 Eastern time.

In unison, manager Lee Mazzilli, pitching coach Ray Miller and shortstopMiguel Tejada pointed at Palmeiro as he stood at second base. Tejada motionedfor everyone to follow him onto the field, and hugs were exchanged as theOrioles' bullpen emptied to join a celebration that lasted about threeminutes.

Mazzilli clutched the ball for safekeeping, and players applauded Palmeirobefore returning to the dugout. Palmeiro held his batting helmet in the air toacknowledge the crowd, and television cameras caught him hiding his face, andhis emotions, in a towel after scoring on Jay Gibbons' double.

Staying hot in the thick of a pennant race, Palmeiro also singled in theseventh inning to move past Roberto Clemente for 25th place on the all-timelist.

"It was emotional," Palmeiro said. "I wasn't expecting that. I thoughtmaybe for a second or two the game would stop and then we could start again.But they came out and I was very honored."

Needing one more hit, Palmeiro walked on five pitches in the first inning,the last a low fastball. He took a strike in his next at-bat before bouncingto first baseman Richie Sexson, whose homer off Rodrigo Lopez (9-5) hadreduced the Orioles' lead to 3-1.

History would wait, but not much longer.

"I was just trying to drive the runner in," he said. "I was just trying todo my thing, keep it simple. I was numb going around the bases, and for themost part I don't remember anything, but it was nice."

Palmeiro joined a select group of players - all of them in the Hall ofFame. He'll most likely follow them there five years after his retirement,rarefied company that overwhelms a man whose statistics scream out that hebelongs but whose heart tells a different story.

"I'm not so sure my name should be mentioned with those guys," he said. "Mynumbers say different, but I still don't feel I should be mentioned withWillie Mays and Henry Aaron. Those two guys are arguably the two best playersof all time."

Only 26 players have recorded 3,000 hits in major league history. RickeyHenderson was the most recent to do it on Oct. 7, 2001, with the San DiegoPadres. Cal Ripken did it on April 15, 2000, against the Minnesota Twins."I've been lucky, and I've played for a long time," Palmeiro said. "I'm verythankful to have an opportunity to play for this long."

Palmeiro became the 19th player to collect 500 home runs, and the secondborn outside the United States, on May 11, 2003, with the Texas Rangers. Here-signed with the Orioles the following winter and continued his march toCooperstown, N.Y., each step taken so quietly that many fans hardly seemed tonotice.

"I have to say this is one of the most important moments of my career," hesaid.

It was embraced by everyone in uniform.

"I think it's a kind of time that you get goose bumps when you see it,"Mazzilli said. "Miggy was next to me and I said, `Miggy, we've got to go. Ithink we have to go on the field.'"

Said Larry Bigbie: "It's kind of different to go out there in the middle ofthe ballgame. I mean, what do you say to a guy like that? It's almost like`congratulations' isn't enough."

Palmeiro's first career hit came on Sept. 8, 1986 against PhiladelphiaPhillies pitcher Tom Hume. "It was a line drive to left-center field," hesaid. Back then, he was a skinny outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, more capableof reaching the gaps than the seats.

His power would develop later. So would his Hall of Fame credentials.

"Smooth and steady," third base coach Tom Trebelhorn said. "It's the samerhythm from a long time ago. Certainly, age changes some things, but hismechanics are still there."

Palmeiro's 1,000th career hit came on May 16, 1993, against Alex Fernandez.No. 2,000 arrived on May 2, 1999, against Rich DeLucia.

The pursuit of 3,000 has become a family affair. Oldest son Patrick, 15,serves as a bat boy. Youngest son Preston, 10, operates the video camera as iffilming a documentary. Both of them left their temporary jobs last night tojoin in the hugs.

"For them to be a part of that and be out there with me, I'll never forgetit and I hope they don't either," Palmeiro said.

The Orioles (49-40) remain one game behind the Boston Red Sox in theAmerican League East. They've taken five of their last six, getting home runsfrom Mora and Sal Fasano last night. B.J. Ryan pitched a perfect ninth for his21st save.

A game was won. Far more memorable was how history was made.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site, time: Safeco Field, Seattle, 10:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Bruce Chen (7-5, 3.87) vs. Mariners' Jamie Moyer (8-3,4.64)

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