A dark cloud is moving into position over Camden Yards.
With Rafael Palmeiro expected to be in uniform following the completion of his 10-day suspension for a positive steroids test, the Baltimore Orioles will try to stay focused on completing a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
After publicly stating to Congress in March that he never used steroids, Palmeiro was suspended on Aug. 1 for failing a drug test. Information on the case has been forwarded to Congress. For that reason, Palmeiro will not address his case, according to his agent, Arn Tellem.
Palmeiro’s shocking suspension came at a time when the Orioles were in the throes of a disastrous stretch of 16 losses in 18 games. A season of promise that featured the Orioles leading the AL East for the better part of the first half of the season turned into a nightmare, culminating with the firing of first-year manager Lee Mazzilli last Thursday.
Now Palmeiro’s ban is over, but he still has to face what are sure to be irate fans and address a media looking for answers.
“I think it’s going to be ugly,” Orioles outfielder David Newhan said of Palmeiro’s impending return. “We already heard some of it in Anaheim, people asking where Raffy is. They know for sure where he is. It’s going to be bad. I can only imagine what they’re going to be saying. I’m sure he’s going to hear it all.”
Newhan said he will welcome back Palmeiro, but also looks at the first baseman as walking proof that baseball’s steroid testing policy is achieving the desired results.
“He made his own bed and now he has to lie in it,” Newhan said. “If he says he had tainted supplements, that’s fine for him to claim. But at some point somebody has to come up positive and not have taken supplements.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re trying to clean up the game,” Newhan added. “I’m glad the steroid testing is working. It’s creating a better environment for guys that aren’t cheating.”
Second baseman Brian Roberts called Palmeiro last week to offer his support, and will continue to do so Thursday.
“It’s good to have him back,” Roberts said. “He’s your teammate. Why wouldn’t you want him back?”
Palmeiro collected his 3,000th career hit on July 15, becoming the fourth player in major league history to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. At that point, he appeared a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
Now, his legacy is uncertain.
“I feel sorry for him, given the timing of it,” outfielder Jay Gibbons said. “You think he’s on top of the world after getting 3,000 hits.”
Palmeiro is batting .280 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs. His bat will be a welcome addition to a lineup that recently has struggled to score, especially because the Orioles put outfielder B.J. Surhoff on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and need some left-handed power.
But interim manager Sam Perlozzo intends to wait until Friday before inserting Palmeiro into the batting order.
“We’re trying to win. If I’m putting somebody out there to play who hasn’t played in 10 days just to get it over with, then I’m not doing my job,” Perlozzo said. “I don’t think I’ll hear a beef from Raffy.”
But Palmeiro will almost certainly hear it from the fans, even the ones in his home ballpark.
“That’s just part of being a professional athlete,” Baltimore reliever Steve Kline said. “Lots of guys are going to get caught, but Raffy’s a big name and he’s going to get dragged through the mud. Hopefully he keeps his head and just goes out and plays.”
Perlozzo expects the Orioles to do the same thing.
“I don’t think any of our guys are going to go to home plate or field a ground ball thinking about it,” he said. “For us to be a real team, we’re going to have to stick together. I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy. We’re going to hear the boos, and we’re going to have to get through it. If we don’t, then we’re going to scuffle.”
The Orioles put themselves in position for a sweep with Wednesday’s 9-5 win. Gibbons’ second career grand slam capped a five-run first inning as Baltimore clinched its first series win since the All-Star break and improved to 4-2 under Perlozzo.
Aubrey Huff took over the team lead with his 16th homer for Tampa Bay.