Thome's late blast highlights team effort
Slugger hits three-run shot in come-from-behind victory
CHICAGO -- Every highlight reel featuring the White Sox 4-2 Opening Day victory over the Royals before 37,449 at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday will lead with Jim Thome.
That's the way this game's tape should be organized, as it was Thome's three-run blast off Kyle Farnsworth with two outs in the eighth that turned a one-run deficit into an exciting, come-from-behind victory. But Thome's fifth career Opening Day home run and his third in four years with the White Sox stood as the punctuation to a complete team effort in Game 1 of the 2009 campaign.
"I don't think anyone will complain how we get it done," said White Sox third baseman Josh Fields, who had two hits during his first Opening Day start. "The consensus in here is just get it done and get a win."
"You want to get off to a good start," said White Sox second baseman Chris Getz, who contributed his first career multihit effort in the season debut. "We got our first win and came from behind, which I'm sure the crowd enjoyed. To win it on a Thome home run, you can't ask for more."
Fields and Getz actually set up Thome against Farnsworth, after the White Sox managed a mere one run on seven hits over seven innings against Kansas City starter Gil Meche. Fields started the rally with a bunt single dropped perfectly down the third-base line, a move that Fields made on his own.
"It was the best chance I felt I had to get on base and get something going," said Fields, who decided to lay down the bunt when Kansas City third baseman Alex Gordon moved back at his position after playing in on the first three pitches. "I've felt good with it, so I figured I might as well give it a shot."
Dewayne Wise, who finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, couldn't get a bunt down against Farnsworth and flied out to center, but Getz followed with a hit-and-run single to right, moving Fields to third. Carlos Quentin, the top White Sox run producer in 2008, struck out swinging for the inning's second out, bringing Thome to the plate.
Kansas City left-hander Ron Mahay had been warming up, but sat down after Quentin struck out. It was Farnsworth's inning to finish, but instead, Thome finished the one-time Cubs reliever with a 400-foot blast to center off a 2-1 fastball.
Thome captured the true excitement of Opening Day with a fist pump around first base.
"When you get a ball in the middle of the plate, especially on a guy like Farnsworth, you have to capitalize on it," said Thome, who launched his 542nd career home run. "It worked out today."
"I got behind him 2-0 and tried to come back on him with fastballs, and that's what he's supposed to do," Farnsworth said. "I think it was up a little bit. When you fall behind good hitters like that, they'll make you pay."
The Kansas City hitters could not exactly say the same for their afternoon's work against an erratic Mark Buehrle. Making his seventh Opening Day start, tying Billy Pierce for the franchise record, Buehrle threw just 58 of his 97 pitches for strikes over five innings.
Buehrle gave up six hits, walked three and hit a pair of Royals batters, leading him to say he was "embarrassed" that he didn't get into the seventh or eighth in this effort. Manager Ozzie Guillen was a bit blunter in assessing his staff ace.
"He was bad," said Guillen with a smile and a sigh. "Maybe because of the short Spring Training, he was keeping the ball up and he couldn't find the strike zone. But one thing about it, we can count on this guy for 162 games. He battled."
To Buehrle's credit, he battled his way out of jams in every inning, including a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in which the Royals scored just once in the fifth. Clayton Richard threw two scoreless innings in relief, a key to the game, in Guillen's opinion, followed by scoreless innings from Octavio Dotel and Bobby Jenks, who picked up the win and save, respectively.
The strong relief helped offset Buehrle's day, not to mention one White Sox runner getting thrown out at the plate and two more nailed at second base. Along with Fields and Getz, these are the players who will get attention and praise within the team, but it was Thome who drew Opening Day headlines with one swing of the bat.
"Opening Day, there's a lot of emotions no matter how long you play," Thome said. "I still get jittery and have nervous excitement. This was a big day at home -- very special, very special."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.