<
>

Palmeiro just two hits shy of 3,000

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The only thing missing from a near-perfect
weekend for the Baltimore Orioles was having Rafael Palmeiro get
his 3,000th hit.

That didn't matter much to Palmeiro, who took great delight in
helping the Orioles charge into the All-Star break by taking three
of four from the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

Palmeiro and Jay Gibbons hit solo home runs to back a strong
pitching performance by Rodrigo Lopez, leading the Orioles to a 4-1
victory Sunday.

Palmeiro's homer off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (8-7) was his
third in three games. Palmeiro also hit a sacrifice fly, but his
1-for-3 afternoon left him two hits short of becoming the fourth
player in baseball history to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

"The hits are going to come," he said. "The thing is, we were
trying to get three out of four. I was able to contribute to
that."

Led by Palmeiro, the Orioles won on Thursday, Saturday and
Sunday to move within two games of first-place Boston in the AL
East. Baltimore entered the series having lost 11 of 13.

"This could have been devastating for us if we lost three out
of four," Palmeiro said. "We would have been six or seven games
out."

The Orioles resume play Thursday with a four-game series in
Seattle, then travel to Minnesota and Tampa Bay, which means
Palmeiro will almost certainly get his 3,000th hit on the road. He
would have loved to have done it Sunday, but he came in 9-for-55
(.164) lifetime against Wakefield, so getting three hits might have
been asking too much.

"I'm disappointed more for the fans. I wanted to do it so that
they could be a part of it," he said. "I'll get it done. It's
just going to be away from here."

Attendance at the game was 49,828, the largest crowd in the
14-year history of Camden Yards. All four games were sellouts,
totaling 195,722 -- the most for a four-game home series in Orioles
history.

Lopez (8-5) gave up one run and three hits in eight innings. He
struck out six, walked none and retired his final 14 batters to
improve to 10-4 lifetime against the Red Sox.

Lopez had lost his previous three starts, including his last one
against the New York Yankees, when he gave up 10 runs and 11 hits
in three innings.

On this day, however, the right-hander virtually shut down an
offense that was leading the majors in batting average (.283) and
runs (472).

"This will give me more confidence, especially after those
three bad outings," Lopez said.

B.J. Ryan worked the ninth for his 19th save.

Trot Nixon homered for the Red Sox, and Johnny Damon beat out a
ninth-inning bunt to extend his career-high hitting streak to 25
games.

Boston reached the All-Star break in first place for the first
time since 1995, but the Red Sox would have preferred to put a more
positive finish on a solid first half.

"I'm not happy we lost today. We're never too happy about
that," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "I wish our record was
a little bit better. I guess everybody does."

Wakefield, who gave up four runs and nine hits in seven innings,
lost for the first time since June 6. He was 4-0 in his previous
five starts.

"I made one bad pitch to Gibbons. I felt great," Wakefield
said. "I could have pitched extra innings."

Gibbons put the Orioles up 2-1 in the fifth, ending a 3-for-25
skid with his 13th homer.

Palmeiro hit his 15th home run, the 566th of his career, in the
sixth. After he reached the dugout, the crowd asked for a curtain
call -- and got it.

"It felt great," he said.

Singles by Luis Matos, Gibbons and Sal Fasano made it 4-1 in the
seventh. That was enough offense for the Orioles, who are 7-5
against Boston this season.

Nixon staked the Red Sox to a 1-0 lead in the second with his
ninth homer, a drive to right on a 2-2 pitch. It was Boston's only
home run in the four-game series.

Baltimore tied it in the fourth. Melvin Mora hit a leadoff
single, took third on a double by Miguel Tejada and scored on
Palmeiro's deep fly to center.

"I wasn't just trying to get hits. I was trying to be
productive," Palmeiro said. "I'm hitting cleanup."

Game notes
Nixon's homer was his 121st with Boston, tying John
Valentin for 20th on the team's career list. ... The Orioles won
their first series since June 17-19, against Colorado.