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Rangers share in Raffy's big day
05/11/2003 10:23 PM ET
ARLINGTON -- Rafael Palmeiro said it felt like a gorilla was lifted from his back as soon as he hit his 500th homer, becoming only the 19th player in Major League history to reach that milestone.

The way his teammates were jumping around and celebrating as they awaited his arrival at home plate Sunday afternoon, you might make that 25 gorillas -- and then some, if you throw in the coaching staff and other Rangers personnel.

For a team that has been struggling and for a man who wants the focus of others to return to team goals and not his historic chase, getting it done at The Ballpark in Arlington in a 17-10 victory over Cleveland was not only a relief to Palmeiro but to all his teammates as well.

"I'm pretty emotional for Raffy to hit No. 500 and for us to get the win," star shortstop Alex Rodriguez said. "We definitely needed that. That's the way we all wanted it to happen."

With a three-run shot off David Elder in the bottom of the seventh inning, both goals were confirmed -- the win and the milestone.

And, bigger than one win on one Sunday in May, Palmeiro's teammates were able to be a part of history.

"I am just honored to be a part of this day," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said.

Juan Gonzalez, who has been a teammate of Palmeiro's for most of his career since both made their Rangers debuts in 1989, might have been the proudest of Palmeiro's teammates. The two have a special relationship that goes beyond being in the same lineup.

"We've played together a lot of years," said Gonzalez, who stands at 417 homers and counting. "I had a great time watching him hit 500 because we've been together so long. But it's not only for me, but for everybody here."

Said Palmeiro: "We're like brothers. I'm sure he was very happy to see me get it done, and it's not very long from his day, so hopefully I'll see that and we'll be on the same team."

Gonzalez felt for Palmeiro as the 500 chase wore on and the pressure to get it done increased.

"I talked to him every day and I told him, 'After you hit No. 500, you'll feel better,'" Gonzalez said. "There's a lot of pressure, every day. You need two, you need one more. Everybody's behind you, asking you, 'Hey Raffy, how are you feeling today? Maybe today you'll hit 500.' Finally, today he hit No. 500 and we're all happy for him."

For someone like Michael Young, who as second baseman stands with Palmeiro on one side and Rodriguez on the other, being a part of Palmeiro's 500th homer is something he can't really compare anything to in his baseball career.

"I'm very grateful to be part of it," Young said. "To be mobbing a guy at home plate after an achievement like that is definitely a special feeling. I hope I'm there when he gets to 600."

Young is among the younger athletes on the team who can look up to Palmeiro, not only because he's now among the all-time greats in the game as a member of the 500 home run club, but because he's a member of their club, a teammate in the same clubhouse who knows how to get things done.

Young, too, knew it was a struggle to finally get it done, but one that Palmeiro was up to.

"I know it wasn't easy, but knowing Raffy and playing with Raffy, he made it seem a lot easier than it really was," Young said. "He's such a professional in the way he goes about his job. He sets such a great example in the way he goes about his job and the way he handles clutch situations."

In this case, the game wasn't in doubt. But it was still a clutch situation, because it was very likely the last at-bat Palmeiro would get in the homestand, which meant it was do it now or do it on the road.

When his bat hit the ball on the full-count pitch, the Rangers dugout stirred into a frenzy that turned into a party out at home plate.

"There was no doubt," Herbert Perry said. "You could tell it was gone just from the sound."

After Palmeiro's teammates crowded around him at the plate and escorted him to the dugout, he took the briefest of curtain calls and then took his spot at first base when the top of the eighth inning began.

But that was just for show. After Palmeiro tossed a few warmup grounders to his teammates, Perry replaced him at first base so Palmeiro could exit to another ovation.

"I knew I was going to (replace him) before, but I didn't know what his reaction was going to be," Perry said. "It's an honor to play with him and the other players I've gotten to play with. I was able to play with Eddie Murray when he got his 3,000th hit, and now I'm playing with Raffy when he got his 500th homer. Not many people get to do that. I'm a trivia question answer now."

John Schlegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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