Thome hits eighth career grand slam
Vazquez earns ninth win as Sox win third straight
CHICAGO -- Jim Thome has been referred to as a "class guy," a "tireless worker" and a "great clubhouse presence" by his White Sox teammates seemingly two or three as many times as he's cleared the fences with his prodigious clouts this season. That's a huge total of compliments, for those keeping track at home.
But following Thome's two-home run, six RBI-effort during Thursday's 11-8 victory over Baltimore before the franchise-record 22nd sellout this season Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field, cleanup hitter Paul Konerko put forth a new word of praise for one of the top pure power hitters in the game.
"He's a monster," said Konerko of Thome, who is tied with Boston's David Ortiz for the American League home run lead at 29, and trails Ortiz's total of 82 RBIs by seven. "It's just unbelievable what that guy can do.
"When he swings the bat well, if you throw it over the plate, he's going to hit it out. It's just that simple."
The Orioles (39-48) actually grabbed a 3-0 lead in the third against White Sox starter Javier Vazquez (9-4) before Thome went to work. Juan Uribe reached on Miguel Tejada's error with one out, followed by singles from Brian Anderson and Scott Podsednik, loading the bases. Alex Cintron, one of five White Sox hitters with two hits, walked to force in a run and set the stage for the man who entered Thursday's series finale against Baltimore with 457 career home runs.
Russ Ortiz (0-1) fell behind to Thome at 3-1 in the count, never a wise thing to do with the left-handed slugger in such a groove. Thome blasted the next pitch over the center-field fence for his eighth career grand slam and first since July 28, 2002, which also happened to be the White Sox seventh grand slam of 2006.
Even with the poor results, Ortiz gave more credit to Thome's strength and ability than a mistake on his part.
"I just happened to put the ball a little bit on the plate for Thome and obviously, he's able hit the ball out to all parts of the field because he's so strong," said Ortiz, who is 0-6 overall in 2006, between stops with Baltimore and Arizona. "It wasn't a horrible pitch, it just caught enough of the plate."
"With a guy on third base, I was just trying to get the run in from third base and not pull off the ball," Thome added. "I tried to stay through the middle. He made a pretty good pitch. Fortunately, it went out."
Fortunately? Thome hit Ortiz's pitch 447 feet, so there seemingly wasn't much luck involved. Thome's second home run off Ortiz, coming in the fifth inning, traveled 403 feet to left-center and staked Vazquez to a 7-3 advantage.
Vazquez actually exited after 5 1/3 innings, giving two of those runs back, and allowing three earned runs and five hits. The right-hander has a 5-1 record with a 6.85 ERA in his last nine starts, but despite an impressive overall record, Vazquez's success has been due more to his nine runs of support per game than his domination of opposing hitters.
These continued struggles have been hard for Vazquez to completely correct, basically because he's not really sure of the exact problem.
"I don't know what it is because I feel great physically," Vazquez said. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball well. My fastball is good. It's just one of those funks.
"It's not like when I was with the Yankees [in 2004], and I wasn't throwing the ball well. I knew the stuff wasn't there, and I was just battling. This struggle is different."
Jermaine Dye also went deep off reliever Todd Williams with two men on in the seventh, his 22nd home run raising a two-run White Sox lead to a 10-5 advantage. A.J. Pierzynski followed with his sixth home run, completing his near-perfect day, in which the White Sox backstop also won the Monster.com All-Star Final Vote for the American League.
Thursday's victory, giving the White Sox the series win against Baltimore and a 16-4 record in their last 20 games, wasn't a total breeze. After pitching a scoreless eighth, Cliff Politte allowed three runs in the ninth before Matt Thornton struck out Corey Patterson with two runners on for his first career save.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen took the blame for Politte's troubles, not getting him out on a high note, but Guillen didn't want to use any other reliever with a six-run lead. Guillen reiterated that he will not give up on the erratic Politte.
"It's up to him how we are going to use him," said Guillen of Politte. "I'm not the type of guy when someone is down, I keep kicking him.
"When someone is down, my job is to make sure I bring him up. If this kid is down right now, I'll do anything to make sure this kid gets up on his feet. I will be there for him."
As the first half of the 2006 season comes to a close with a weekend series against Boston, the White Sox (56-29) sit at a season-best 27 games over .500 and trail the Tigers by one game in the American League Central. With the offense possessed by the South Siders and the weather getting warmer, the production shockingly should increase in the second half.
And a "monster" named Thome most likely will be leading the way.
"There are ups and downs in a long season," Thome said. "But we have guys who can step up, down through our lineup. It's contagious -- when one or two guys get going, the other ones want to join in. It's really great."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.