Palmeiro leaves home with 500th career HR

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

ARLINGTON, Texas - Rafael Palmeiro got exactly what he was looking for in his final at-bat in a six-game homestand.

He didn't miss, hitting his 500th career homer Sunday before the Texas Rangers hit the road for a six-game trip. The 38-year-old slugger hit a full-count fastball from Cleveland right-hander David Elder for a three-run homer in the seventh inning.

''He threw it right where I was looking for it,'' Palmeiro said. ''I hit it, and I knew I got it.''

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The left-handed Palmeiro hit the ball 370 feet - into the arms of a priest - and became the 19th player and second this season to join the 500-homer club.

Plus, Texas beat Cleveland 17-10 to stop a three-game losing streak.

''If we would have lost, the whole thing would not have been the same,'' Palmeiro said.

Hank Blalock went 4-for-5 with four RBIs and the Rangers denied Cleveland its first sweep in Texas in 30 years. Michael Young had three hits and scored three times.

''It's pretty emotional for all of us with Raffy hitting 500 and us getting the win,'' All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez said. ''This is the way we all wanted it to happen.''

Palmeiro followed Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, who hit his 500th homer April 4. Sosa has 505, so next on the list is Eddie Murray (504 homers), the Cleveland hitting coach who paid tribute to Palmeiro with a tip of his cap.

A banner that has been hanging high in center field, and updated for every homer since No. 495, was flipped over to 500. A specially designed logo commemorating Palmeiro's feat was unveiled on the right-field wall, his two sons removing the tarp that had covered it.

Father John Collet of Dallas caught the ball, and gave it to Palmeiro in exchange for several autographed items. The bat Palmeiro used will be sent to the Hall of Fame.

''I tried to get a fastball in and just didn't get it there,'' said Elder, the 328th pitcher Palmeiro has homered off. ''He has 500 reasons why pitchers shouldn't make mistakes. That's not what I wanted to happen.''

Palmeiro started the six-game homestand Tuesday two shy of the milestone. He hit No. 499 on Thursday against Toronto, and made history 15 plate appearances later.

Like Mickey Mantle in 1967, Palmeiro hit his 500th homer on Mother's Day. His mother, Maria, was there for her last game before returning home to Miami, and got the gift she wanted.

''I talked to my mom last night, and right before she went to bed, she goes, all that I want for Mother's Day is for you to hit the home run,'' Palmeiro said. ''I said thanks for adding a little bit more pressure.''

Sosa hit his first home run while playing for the Rangers. Palmeiro, a first-round pick of the Cubs in 1985, hit his first career homer at Wrigley Field against Philadelphia's Kevin Gross on Sept. 9, 1986.

This is the third time two players have reached the milestone in the same season. Eddie Mathews joined Mantle in 1967, and Harmon Killebrew and Frank Robinson did it in 1971. Los Angeles' Fred McGriff could make it three with 17 more homers this season.

Palmeiro returned to the field to start the eighth, but only so that the crowd would have another chance to cheer the first baseman. Before the inning started, Herbert Perry replaced Palmeiro with the Ranger up 16-5.

Palmeiro has never led the league in home runs, instead reaching the milestone with consistency and a smooth, seemingly effortless left-handed swing. He is the only player to hit at least 38 homers in eight straight seasons, and has 10 this year.

Only four others have been older when reaching 500 homers: Ted Williams, Murray, Willie McCovey and Ernie Banks. Every member of the 500-homer club eligible for the Hall of Fame has been elected to the shrine.

Blalock's second four-hit game of the season upped his major league-leading average to .387. His two-run single in the fifth tied the score before he scored on an error that put the Rangers ahead to stay.

The first five Texas batters reached in the fifth against Indians rookie Ricardo Rodriguez (2-4), Blalock's liner tying the game at 5. Third baseman Bill Selby's throwing error allowed two runs.

Joaquin Benoit (1-0), scheduled to start Tuesday at Boston, retired six of the seven batters he faced after Cleveland had a three-run fourth against rookie Colby Lewis to go ahead 5-2.

Brandon Phillips had a two-run double and an run-scoring single for Cleveland. Matt Lawton and Tim Laker homered in the ninth.

Palmeiro finished 2-for-5, including his 529th career double. He missed a chance to be the first to 500 with a grand slam when he had an infield popout in the seventh.

Notes: Texas is first team ever to have players with 300, 400 and 500 homers playing at the same time. Juan Gonzalez has 417 and Alex Rodriguez has 309. … The last Cleveland sweep in Texas was Aug. 10-12, 1973. … Texas OF Ryan Christenson broke an 0-for-17 slump with a double and a homer.