Thome continues to crush Tigers with homers
Lefty belts career long balls No. 599, 600 at Comerica
DETROIT -- Jim Thome has broken plenty of Tigers fans' hearts with home runs, from one walk-off shot after another at Jacobs Field years ago to seven career home runs off Justin Verlander. Yet on the biggest milestone home run of Thome's career, the crowd of 36,211 at Comerica Park gave their longtime nemesis a long standing ovation.
They weren't the only ones thinking that way about Thome's 600th home run.
"I'm not exactly happy about it," said Daniel Schlereth, the pitcher who gave up the homer. "But by the same token, he's a great player and I'm a huge fan of his. He did a great thing tonight.
"I felt awkward. I didn't know whether to clap or anything. I'm probably going to write him a letter congratulating him on his feat."
Considering Thome has hit 65 home runs off of Tigers pitching, more than any other club, he should arguably have some kind words for them. The last two came Monday night, making him the first player in Major League history to hit home runs 599 and 600 in consecutive at-bats.
He's just the eighth player in Major League history to get to 600 in any order. That gets him the admiration of one of the great hitters in the game today.
"Very impressive to see a guy hit his 600th home run," Miguel Cabrera said. "I had a chance to see Barry Bonds play, Sammy Sosa, [Rafael] Palmeiro, A-Rod. To see Thome is amazing. To have a chance to see and play against a guy like that, it's something you're going to remember all your life."
Thome's first home run Monday, and 599th of his career, came in the sixth inning off starter Rick Porcello, who was 5 1/2 months old when Thome signed his first pro contract in 1989. Thome was just 2-for-8 with a double off Porcello in his career at that point, but when Porcello left a first-pitch fastball too far up, Thome pounced on it. The drive to left-center landed in the Twins bullpen for a two-run homer that extended Minnesota's lead and put him on the cusp of history.
"He's hit 600 of those, so it's not the first time he's done that," Porcello said. "But it wasn't a good pitch, wasn't well-located. A guy like that's going to take advantage of it."
The history-making homer, by contrast, was an offspeed pitch in which Thome supplied most of the power, and he did it toward the opposite-field corner. Schlereth, who had never faced Thome before, had fallen behind on a 2-0 count before dropping a curveball at the knees for a strike. With a 2-1 count, he tried to do it again, but left it just a little bit higher.
Thome was seemingly expecting the breaking ball, and he lofted it out to left, where he saw a familiar face trying to run it down.
Up until Monday afternoon, Delmon Young was Thome's teammate. When he talked with reporters before the game, he regretted that he wouldn't be around for Thome's 600th homer. Hours later, he was trying to track it down and see if he could take it away.
"I was hoping it was a little bit shorter so I could try to get a glove on it and everything, try to keep him at 599," Young said. "But it was a good thing for him and baseball and his family and the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians and every team he's played for. It's a good day for Jim Thome and the Minnesota Twins."
On nearly all of those teams, he has haunted the Tigers. His shot into history was fittingly no different.
"I knew he was close to 600," Schlereth said. "I didn't know that was going to be the one. I didn't anticipate giving up a bomb to him right there. The pitch, it could've been better, it was a little too much plate for me. I probably would've thrown the same one, maybe mixed in a fastball earlier in the count.
"I mean, it looked like he was sitting a little bit on the breaking ball. If I threw it a little more down in the zone, he might've swung over top of it or chopped one somewhere. But he's a great hitter. You can't make mistakes like that, and he made me pay for it."
Said Cabrera: "Guys like that, the kind of power he's got, they know how to use the whole field. That 600, that tells you everything about him, you know? He's able to hit big home runs all over the park -- center field, left, right field. It was no good because we lost the game, but it was exciting to see him get to 600 home runs."
On most days, that would've drawn a chorus of boos from the Tigers' faithful. This was the rare exception.
"Number one, I think that's a compliment to Jim Thome," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "and I'm very proud of our fans for the reception that they gave him. Certainly that's a Hall of Fame achievement, Hall of Fame from the get-go. He's just a Hall of Fame guy and a Hall of Fame player. Our fans are a class act, and I think they showed that tonight."
Like Schlereth, many of the Tigers didn't know how to react.
"I've known Jim for a long time," Leyland said. "I'd rather be calling him in a hotel on the road somewhere, but I happened to be the manager when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th against the Pirates on a 3-0 pitch from Donnie Robinson, so I've seen some of those. But in this case, I'd probably rather see it on SportsCenter against somebody else. But I'll have my moment to speak with Jim."