04/01/08 10:08 AM ET
Thome's early groove brings rewards
Veteran's two homers in opener may be sign of things to come
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
You know, it's one of those periods when even the outs made by Thome are hard-hit balls on the ground or majestic drives toward the wall, as he did during his third and fourth at-bats, respectively, of the 10-8 Opening Day loss to Cleveland. But it was the home runs, on this occasion, which set Thome apart, launching two-run blasts to right-center in the first and third innings off of C.C. Sabathia.
"He's on fire," said White Sox left fielder Nick Swisher of his teammate. "When you are hot, you are hot.
"Jim's not hot, he's scalding. You don't even want to give him five."
Of course, Swisher's energetic nature couldn't hold him back from slapping hands and celebrating with Thome after he scored ahead of him on the second long ball in the third. Those home runs became all the more impressive coming off of Sabathia, primarily because of the big man's Cy Young Award from 2007 and his past dominance of both the White Sox and Thome.
Sabathia entered Monday's start with a 14-3 career record against the White Sox, and he had held Thome hitless in 11 head-to-head matchups. Seven of those outs came via strikeouts against Sabathia, but Thome tried not to think about the past too much with so much to gain in the present.
"C.C. is a great pitcher. I've watched him for years, watched him grow up here," Thome said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He doesn't back down and he knows how to pitch. He's a Cy Young [winner] so you have to be ready, and all of us were.
"Again, lefty on lefty -- bring your 'A' game against him. It was a good day as far as that goes, but not a good day because we didn't win."
As a veteran of 18 years, Thome knows how to prepare himself for competition. Once again, he moved into a couple of Minor League games during the final few weeks of Spring Training, especially when the team made Cactus League trips to the Phoenix area, and batted every inning. He had the chance to face veteran hurlers such as Brandon Webb, Doug Davis and Tomo Ohka in a look toward to the regular season.
That same process helped Thome knock out an amazing 20 home runs in the first two months of his initial campaign with the White Sox in 2006. Those personal numbers aren't as important as team success, which was evidenced by Thome's deferral to Chicago's loss over his personal glory.
But don't be surprised if Thome goes deep a few more times before leaving Cleveland on Thursday evening. Returning to the scene where he played for 12 seasons, and was a frontline star for nine, gives Thome a little adrenaline boost, even if the boos continue to rain down for a former Cleveland hero.
"I'll let you answer that. You know that," said Thome, when asked by a reporter Monday if there was extra energy for him playing in Cleveland. "There's a lot of emotion. There's a lot of history here, so yes."
"It will keep coming," added Swisher of Thome's production, which pushed his career home run total to 509. "He's been around the game a long time. He knows the game. He knows how to control his emotions and do things the right way."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.