Thome hits No. 496 in White Sox rally
Slugger launches three-run shot in ninth inning vs. Twins
CHICAGO -- There have been more memorable home runs launched by Jim Thome during his illustrious 17-year-career than the one he crushed in the ninth inning off Minnesota's Julio DePaula during the White Sox indescribable 11-10 victory in 13 innings Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
But whenever Thome thinks back on home run No. 496 as part of one of the more miraculous comebacks in franchise history, he will recall the 430-foot blast to center with a broad smile.
"No doubt," said Thome, after his 24th home run of the season cut the Twins' four-run lead to one and contributed mightily to the White Sox six-run rally to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"It felt good," added Thome, who crushed a fastball off the bewildered DePaula, making him the 332nd pitcher the prolific slugger has gone deep against. "I swung at the first one and he threw it by me. I thought, 'Get ready, he's going to throw another one here.' He did, and it worked out."
Thome's last home run came on Aug. 28, against Kason Gabbard in Texas. That blast to right stood as his last long ball in August, and Thome had gone homerless in September.
In fact, Thome had just two hits in his last 20 at-bats entering Friday's series opener against the Twins. Thome singled twice in his first two trips to the plate and drove home Jerry Owens in the first inning against Minnesota starter Carlos Silva. He felt as good in his unsuccessful at-bats Friday, though, as he did during the three hits.
"You know what, really all road trip I felt pretty good," said Thome, who now has a .268 average and 77 RBIs for the season. "I hit the ball at a lot of guys on the road trip, but my swing is getting a little better as we are going on here."
Even before Friday's mammoth clout, though, the September drought didn't seem to affect Thome's state of mind.
"I'm trying not to focus in on that, because ultimately you come to the ballpark and you focus in every day on winning," said Thome of reaching 500. "It's been nice to do it, to get closer, to have people talk about it a little more.
"But ultimately, it goes back to winning the game. You can hit a home run and it's nice to move forward, but if you don't win the ballgame, it's just not that much fun."
In a word, Thome's home run was "fun" on Friday, basically a five-inning run of enjoyment for the White Sox capped off by A.J. Pierzynski's game-winning single in the 13th. The wins are the important things to Thome, although his team has long since been knocked out of playoff contention.
For his teammates and his manager, Thome becoming the 23rd player to reach baseball immortality stands as one of the most important team targets during the season's final 21 games.
"I love it," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Thome's 496th home run. "I think the key for Jimmy to hit the 500 this year is we have a [nine-game] homestand. Hopefully, he can get hot here and make it easy."
"Any time you can do that, guys are happy tonight," added Thome, focusing back on the team's improbable win. "It's great and we all should be [happy]. That's what winning does."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.