BALTIMORE On the eve of Rafael Palmeiro's expected return from a 10-day suspension for steroid use, the Baltimore Orioles got a glimpse of how his presence will affect the clubhouse.
Orioles catcher Javy Lopez walked into the locker room Wednesday afternoon and was stunned to see a horde of reporters and cameramen surrounding reserve outfielder David Newhan, who was pressed against the front of his cubicle.
''What's going on?'' Lopez asked.
''Palmeiro,'' a teammate replied.
Lopez raised his eyebrows and quickly scuttled out of view.
There's no telling the impact Palmeiro's bat will have on the Baltimore lineup when he returns, but there's no question that things won't be the same before the first pitch.
''We see reporters that we have never seen before. This is national news now,'' outfielder Jay Gibbons said. ''They're all asking the same question.''
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 release issued Wednesday by his agent, Arn Tellem.
''It would not be appropriate to comment while the House Committee on Government Reform is doing its work. Pending review by that committee, there will be no other public comment,'' the statement read. ''Raffy looks forward to rejoining the Orioles (Thursday), and he will focus his attention on baseball.''
His teammates will attempt to do the same thing. Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo is considering withholding Palmeiro from the lineup Thursday, but that probably won't stop the fans at Camden Yards from voicing their opinion on the topic.
''I think it's going to be ugly,'' Newhan said. ''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 said. ''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,'' 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 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.''
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