Jim Thome stepped up to bat in the 7th inning Monday night with the Twins clinging to a 6-5 lead againt the Tigers. Justin Morneau stood on first and Trevor Plouffe on third. Thome watched three pitches from Tiger lefty Daniel Schlereth. Then, with the count at 2-1, Schlereth tossed an 80 mph curveball on the outside half of the plate. Thome waved at it with his deceptively-powerful swing and the ball sailed to the opposite field. And it carried. And it flew.
It flew all the way to the Tiger bullpen for Thome’s 600th home run.
Thome came into the game with 598 career homers, and he had been in a slight drought since his last big fly on August 4th against the Angels. But in the sixth inning at Detroit, he socked his 10th homer of the year to put the Twins up 5-3. Like #600, this was an opposite field shot to the Tiger bullpen. After Francisco Liriano allowed the Tigers to draw within a run in the bottom of the 7th, Thome came out the very next inning to stretch the lead to 9-5.
Thome joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa as the 8th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 600. For purists, Thome is just the fifth player (along with Aaron, Ruth, Mays, and Griffey) to reach that illustrious milestone without every being linked to performance enhancing drugs. It is so rare for a Major Leaguer to hit 600 home runs without chemical enhancement that many fans will never see it happen again. Among active players, Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero are next in line behind Thome with 446. Both are almost certain to retire well before tying Thome’s total.
Baseballs flew out of Comerica Park with some regularity on Monday night. Delmon Young, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Raburn joined Thome in the homer column, but none of their blasts was as memorable (with the possible exception of Young, who homered in his first at bat against his former team).
The only unfortunate part about Thome’s feat is that it didn’t come in Minnesota, where Twins fans could’ve cheered on their adopted hero – or in Cleveland, where Thome played 12 seasons and hit his first 334 longballs. The Twins played the Indians over the weekend, but an untimely rainout deprived Thome of any chance of putting on a show for the Cleveland fans who love him so much.
Thome’s chase enthralled Twins fans in the middle of an otherwise dreary season. But it failed to draw the interest of millions of fans around the country as Derek Jeter’s march toward 3,000 hits did earlier this year. Despite the fact that hitting 600 home runs is far more rare than reaching 3,000 hits, the Twins lack the massive media presence that Jeter’s Yankees take for granted. Coincidentally, Twins announcer Bert Blyleven lamented the lack of attention right before Thome’s blast, saying “H going to hit his 600th home run here one of these days, if not in this at bat, and it’ll go unnoticed. [Thome is] a true gentleman.”
Bert, you were right about part of that. Thome is one of the game’s great gentlemen, and he did homer that at bat. But his feat is far from unnoticed. Millions of Twins fans couldn’t be more proud of Jim Thome, and neither could we here at Puckett’s Pond.