Bats struggle as Sox fall to Orioles
Damon goes 2-for-5 to extend hitting streak to 24 games
BALTIMORE -- Sitting in the visiting manager's office at Camden Yards before Boston's 9-1 loss to the Orioles on Saturday, Terry Francona strained to recall memories of Baltimore first baseman Rafael Palmeiro from their days as teammates in 1986. The Red Sox skipper played for the Cubs when the 21-year-old Palmeiro was first called up from Double-A in early September that season.
"We were in Shea Stadium and he had an at-bat or two under his belt," Francona said. "He was facing Dwight Gooden, and I remember sitting on the bench thinking, 'This young guy thinks he's hot [stuff].' He turned around a fastball so fast, it just kind of caught your eye."
Francona's description was actually of Palmeiro's second career home run and not his first, as the skipper remembered.
Palmeiro's 565th homer, however, is more likely to stay fresh in Francona's mind. It came on a 2-1 inside fastball from Wade Miller in Saturday's third inning and turned out to be more than enough for the Orioles on a day the 20-year veteran drove in six runs.
Francona may have been able to push Palmeiro's 350-foot blast deeper into the annals of his memory if not for David Ortiz being robbed of a three-run homer earlier that inning.
With two out, Ortiz smacked a deep fly toward the Orioles' bullpen in left-center field, but Baltimore center fielder Luis Matos elevated to snag the ball with his arm extended about three feet over the wall.
Ortiz said he thought he hit it well enough, but remembered a conversation with his friend on Thursday afternoon before the series began.
"[Matos] told me the other day, 'Make sure that when you hit a ball over my head, that you get it out,'" said Ortiz, who added that he only recalls having one home run taken away from him, when he was a member of the Twins and Red Sox right fielder Darren Bragg robbed him of a grand slam at Fenway Park. "That's a [heck] of a catch. There's nothing you can do about it."
Ortiz bowed his head in recognition of Matos' grab, but the Red Sox surely didn't appreciate the game-changing play. The Sox admittedly lost a bit of their edge with what Francona called "a six-run swing" in the third inning.
"That kind of took the wind out of our sails right there," said Johnny Damon, who went 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to 24 games. "If Ortiz could've hit that ball another couple feet, I think we roll the rest of the game. We just needed David to be a bit stronger."
Wade Miller settled in after the homer to Palmeiro -- which landed above the 25-foot-high wall in right field and had no chance of being robbed. Miller (2-3) scattered seven hits and struck out five in six innings.
However, the Orioles' defense continued to pilfer potential hits behind left-hander Bruce Chen (7-5).
Matos made a sliding catch to take a single away from Kevin Millar in the fourth and second baseman Brian Roberts ranged to his right in the fifth to snatch a ball hit up the middle by Kevin Youkilis.
The game fittingly ended with Matos sprinting to grab a long drive by Damon in deep center field, minutes after left fielder Larry Bigbie made a sliding grab in foul territory for the second out of the ninth.
After Miller departed, Palmeiro slapped a run-scoring bloop single to right off John Halama in the seventh. The slugger hit his second sacrifice fly of the game in the eighth off left-handed reliever Mike Myers to pick up his sixth RBI and put the game well out of reach.
Boston's bullpen surrendered five runs in two innings, but those were hardly the numbers on the minds of the sellout crowd of 49,331.
With two hits Saturday, Palmeiro enters Sunday's series finale needing just three hits to reach 3,000 in the final game before the All-Star break.
"With everything he has done in the game, he deserves it," Ortiz said of the milestone. "He's a great player."
Francona said he wouldn't be surprised if the 40-year-old Palmeiro reaches the 600-home run plateau by the end of his career. But the Sox skipper is more concerned with his team avoiding a series loss than seeing someone reach the 3,000-hit mark in person for the first time.
"I just hope it's not against us," he said.
David Selig is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.