Jim Thome's major achievement
DETROIT, Michigan // When Jim Thome came to the plate, needing one home run for 600, the opposing pitcher was not even aware how close he was to the milestone.
Then Thome sent a towering fly ball over the fence in left field. The scoreboard flashed a congratulatory message, rival fans stood and applauded, and the Minnesota Twins came out of the dugout to greet their slugger.
After reaching No 600 in style on Monday night - with two home runs in back-to-back innings during a 9-6 win over Detroit - Thome finally earned some appreciation following a pursuit that seemed to go unnoticed most of the season.
The 40-year-old Thome became the eighth player to reach the mark, and only Babe Ruth did it in fewer at-bats. Next stop, Cooperstown and baseball's Hall of Fame?
"I don't know. That's not for me to decide," Thome said. "That would be a dream. It's pretty special. I don't think it's really hit home. To be mentioned and have the Hall of Fame mentioned, that's just very, very special. That's just really cool."
Fighting injuries during a frustrating season in Minnesota, Thome did not receive nearly the amount of publicity his predecessors who reached 600 homers did. Even Derek Jeter's accomplishment of 3,000 hits earlier this season dwarfed the attention Thome received for a feat far more rare.
There were reasons for that, of course. Jeter is one of the game's icons, playing for the New York Yankees, the most famous team - and perhaps on some level, fans became numb to the numbers after so many of Thome's contemporaries reached 600 before him.
Thome is the fifth player since 2002 to enter that club, beginning with Barry Bonds nine years ago. Alex Rodriguez was the most recent, last August. Unlike Bonds and Rodriguez, Thome has largely eluded suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs.
"You look at how long he's played in the game and when you're able to do something like that, it's preparation, taking care of yourself," Ron Gardenhire, the Twins manager, said. "If you watch him come to the ballpark very early every day and prepare himself to get his body motivated, which we all know as you get a little older, it's not easy.
"But to watch him get himself motivated and get himself up to be able to do these things, hopefully a lot of our guys can learn a lot."
This season, Thome struggled with injuries to his toe, ribs and quadriceps. His milestone homer was only his 11th of the year, and he acknowledged on Monday that he was wondering if it was ever going to happen.
It did all right. Thome arrived at his milestone with flair. His two-run homer in the sixth gave him 599, then he harnessed the power again in that pure left-handed swing, lifting a 2-1 pitch from Daniel Schlereth in the seventh over the fence in left field.
"I wasn't really aware of it. I knew he was close to 600, but I didn't know if that was going to be the one," Schlereth said. "I'm not exactly happy about it, but he's a great player, and I'm a huge fan of his. He did a great thing tonight, and ... I felt kind of awkward, I didn't know whether to clap or what."
By the time Thome touched home, Detroit's fans were well aware of the accomplishment and showed their appreciation. The celebration at the plate included Thome's father, wife and children, but it did not delay the game much.
"Obviously when you're on the road, the game has to move on," Thome said. "To stop there and cherish that moment - in the visiting park they give you a standing ovation - is really cool."
It was perhaps fitting that Thome reached No 600 in a match-up of AL Central rivals. He hit 334 home runs with Cleveland and 134 with the Chicago White Sox. Ruth reached 600 in 6,921 at-bats. Thome needed 8,167.
Only seven hitters have hit more home runs than Thome: Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr, Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. Thome still has time to add to his total - and bolster his Hall of Fame case even more.
Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, doesn't need convincing. "Certainly that's a Hall of Fame achievement," Leyland said. "Hall of Fame from the get-go. He's just a Hall of Fame guy, and a Hall of Fame player.
Published: August 17, 2011 04:00 AM