Most of Palmeiro's damage has been done from the third spot in the order, which opened up when Jose Canseco suffered a season-ending elbow injury on May 29. Before that, Palmeiro was considered a player who could hit only second or fifth, while bangers like Canseco, Ruben Sierra (a Ranger from 1986 to '92) and Juan Gonzalez carried the load in the third and fourth spots. However, since batting in the three hole, he has outproduced even Gonzalez. So much for the perception that Palmeiro doesn't have the mental toughness to carry a team.
His torrid stretch has delighted the Rangers, but it also puts them in a tough spot. With DH Julio Franco surely gone to free agency after the season, and with Canseco's career in jeopardy, Texas needs Palmeiro's bat—and his glove (he had gone 63 straight games without an error through Sunday). But the Rangers are not expected to begin negotiations with him until after the season. If Palmeiro continues to hit the way he has recently, he'll have a long line of suitors.
BEASTS OF THE EAST
A number of gaijin (foreigners) are thriving in Japan. Former Angel and Padre third baseman Jack Howell of the Yakult Swallows is on his way to becoming the first foreigner to win the Central League MVP Award twice. He had 19 homers and 49 RBIs in his first 73 games. Third baseman Tom O'Malley, who played for six major league teams in nine seasons, is playing for the Hanshin Tigers; at week's end he was leading the Central League in batting with a .361 average. Second in that league was Glenn Braggs, a former Brewer and Red outfielder, who had a hitting streak of 28 games going for the Yokohama Baystars.
Howell, for one, is thinking of making the move from Japan back to the U.S., just as the Tigers' Cecil Fielder and the Marlins' Orestes Destrade did. "My goal was to come over here and get my career back on track," says Howell. "There's a new breed of gaijin players—guys who are hungry and feel they still have a lot of career left. The guys who came over here years ago created a bad reputation for today's players. Those guys just came over for a final big payday, went through the motions, collected their million dollars and went home. I'd like to come back [to the majors], but I could also end my career here. I'm about 50-50 on returning."
THE HITS KEEP COMING
San Diego rightfielder Tony Gwynn went 6 for 7 on Aug. 4 against the Giants, giving him four games with five or more hits this season. That tied the major league record held by Willie Keeler (1897), Ty Cobb (1922) and Stan Musial (1948). "I can't believe those names," said Gwynn, who two nights later got his 2,000th hit. "When someone else does it, they'll have to mention my name, too. Wow!" Gwynn has had seven five-hit games, the most among active players, but only half as many as Cobb's alltime record.
A STIRRING COMEBACK
Last Saturday night Cleveland's Bobby Ojeda pitched for the first time since the March 22 boating accident in which he was injured and Indian pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed. Ojeda received a standing ovation from the crowd of 46,424 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards when he entered the game to start the fourth inning. He gave up four hits and two runs (one earned), walked none and struck out one in two innings, but those results were insignificant. "It was hard coming through that [bullpen] gate and onto the field," said Ojeda afterward. "But I did it. Hopefully it will get easier. I'm glad that part's over. That was for the guys, my dead buds."
Ojeda was only able to say four words at his postgame news conference before being overcome with emotion, but he soon regained his composure. He said he planned to call the wives of Crews and Olin to thank them for their support. Later he even made a small joke. Referring to a homer that Cal Ripken hit off him, Ojeda said, "Ten years ago I don't think I could have thrown a 3-2 cross-seamer by Cal. I don't know what made me think I could do it tonight. Some things don't change."