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Palmeiro Returns To Mixed Reviews

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Rafael Palmeiro had heard jeers and disparaging remarks from the home crowd in each of his four previous trips to the plate. It had been a difficult afternoon, and now the maligned slugger had a chance to salvage a performance in which he failed to hit the ball out of the infield.

As he took his place in the batter's box in the ninth inning, a familiar chant drowned out the boos from the remaining unforgiving Baltimore Orioles fans in attendance.

"Raffy! Raffy!" they yelled.

Although he struggled Sunday in his first game since returning from a 10-day suspension for using steroids, Palmeiro now had a chance to win the game. The Orioles trailed the Toronto Blue Jays 7-6 and had the potential tying and winning runs on base with two outs.

"I thought it would've been a good opportunity for me to at least get a hit to tie the game," Palmeiro said later.

Alas, he hit a routine fly ball to right, ending the game and an afternoon in which he went 0-for-4 with a walk.

After the huge media throng finally stopped asking questions and walked away from his locker, Palmeiro received a bear hug from his youngest son, 10-year-old Preston.

It might have been the first time all day that Palmeiro smiled.

"I'm sure it's a relief for him to get it out of the way," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He's probably going in there to take a deep breath and go, 'Whew. I'm glad that's over with. Now I can go ahead and play real baseball."'

On a day originally designed to honor his performance on the baseball diamond, Palmeiro was simultaneously cheered and jeered for his dishonorable activity off the field.

He returned to the Orioles on Thursday after serving the suspension that tarnished his name, perhaps forever, but this was the first time that he played before the home fans. Batting sixth as the designated hitter, Palmeiro heard a mixture of boos and cheers when his name was announced during pregame introductions.

The response was more animated when Palmeiro walked to the plate in the first inning.

Many fans stood and cheered in a display of forgiveness to a longtime contributor to the Orioles. Others jeered, angered that Palmeiro has yet to explain how steroids were detected in his system only a few months after he wagged his finger at Congress in March, vowing before a congressional committee that he never used the performance-enhancing drug.

Upon being suspended by Major League Baseball for steroid use on Aug. 1, Palmeiro, 40, insisted that he did not know how the drug got in his body. He has not addressed the topic since returning Thursday, saying that his attorneys advised him to refrain from comment until Congress concludes its investigation of his case.

Palmeiro was supposed to be honored in a pregame ceremony Sunday. The celebration was designed to salute his accomplishment of becoming the fourth player in major league history to amass at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, a feat he realized on July 15.

But the ceremony was called off, at Palmeiro's request, soon after he began his suspension. Someone asked Sunday if he was disappointed about having to call off the celebration.

"I don't think it would've been appropriate anyway, so I'm OK with that," he said.

Each time he walked to the plate, Palmeiro drew jeers. But as the game wore on, more fans cheered than booed.

Baltimore fans have a reputation for forgiveness: They welcomed back Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Lewis after he stood trial for murder in Atlanta in 2000, and they forgave Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for his part in a proposed drug deal that forced the running back to serve a prison sentence this summer.

Ray Bates, 18, of Baltimore, walked through the gate Sunday wearing a gray Palmeiro jersey.

"I'm here to support him. I always loved him, I always will," Bates said.

David Williams, 50, wore a black Palmeiro T-shirt he bought outside the stadium before the game.

"I don't condone Raffy for the fact that he cheated, but the fact that he's paying the penalty and all that, he should be forgiven," Williams said.

Palmeiro won't play Monday in Oakland, Perlozzo said, but expects him back in the lineup Tuesday. Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons said Palmeiro can probably anticipate harsher treatment in Oakland than in Baltimore.

"Obviously, on the road it's going to be a little bit rougher for him," Gibbons said. "I think it's good for him to come back today and hear some of the cheers."

The Orioles don't expect the jeers to be a distraction.

"I'm not really concerned about it. I'm concerned about him playing well for us," Perlozzo said. "If we've got to worry about crowd reaction, then we're in the wrong business."