Thome, Sox silence Cleveland critics
Seven-run lead nearly erased, but Jenks remains firm
CLEVELAND -- For 12 years in Cleveland, Jim Thome played to thunderous cheers and about as high of an approval rating as humanly imaginable from the Indians' faithful.
So, there was no reason to believe Thome wouldn't receive some sort of positive recognition in his first return back to Jacobs Field on Monday night, even as a member of the archrival White Sox. In fact, manager Ozzie Guillen said after the White Sox 8-6 victory before 17,845 that they were all anticipating the ovation coming Thome's way prior to the start of the contest.
Instead, Thome received a reception that was characterized as "disappointing" at best by the White Sox. For a little more detailed reaction of the fans' treatment of their one-time hero, Guillen offered the following postgame assessment.
Guillen had been watching television before the media entered his office following the 3 hour, 44 minute marathon, and watched a replay of the exhilarating reaction Johnny Damon received from Red Sox Nation upon his return to Fenway Park with the Yankees. It was loud and long enough for Damon to tip his helmet to the supportive crowd.
It was a sharp contrast to the loud boos Thome heard in each of his six at-bats.
"Brutal. I think it was really disappointing," Guillen said of the treatment of Thome. "I remember coming here when ... nobody came [to the ballpark].
"All of a sudden, with Thome and [Carlos] Baerga and those great Cleveland players like Omar Vizquel... I think Jim did a lot of great things for this town.
"With the way he played in this town, they should tip their hat and say thank you," Guillen added. "I was disappointed by it. It was kind of embarrassing. Even the Cleveland players shook their heads."
Thome actually had the last laugh on Monday. With the White Sox holding a 7-5 lead in the ninth and Scott Podsednik (four hits, three runs) on third base with two outs, following his third and fourth stolen bases of the night, Thome grounded a 3-2 pitch from Scott Sauerbeck into right field for an important insurance run.
The single was Thome's first hit of the night, although he did walk and score in the sixth inning. He was removed for pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna, and the excitement from the White Sox bench as Thome returned was what everyone expected Thome to receive from the crowd.
For Thome, the White Sox fourth straight win held far greater importance than a popularity contest.
"Winning the game is really what it's all about," Thome said. "I mean, you are not playing the game to hear boos. You are trying to do the job out there. I tried not to get caught up in it either way."
"Jimmy goes about his business and concentrates on driving people in," Guillen added. "And we needed that run. It showed in the last inning."
Behind Paul Konerko's seventh home run, a three-run blast in the first off of Cliff Lee (2-2), and four errors by Cleveland (13-13), the White Sox jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the sixth. Travis Hafner's grand slam off of reliever Brandon McCarthy in the seventh quickly pushed the momentum back toward Cleveland and cut the lead to 7-5.
Trailing by three in the ninth, the Indians put the first two runners on base against Neal Cotts, causing Guillen to summon Bobby Jenks. The burly right-hander allowed Ben Broussard's broken-bat, run-scoring single, but struck out Victor Martinez, Ron Belliard and Todd Hollandsworth for his eighth save in eight chances.
Jenks' monumental effort made a winner of Javier Vazquez (3-1), who did not allow an earned run over six innings, striking out seven. The importance of this two-game set and the White Sox eighth straight win at Jacobs Field was evident in the fist pumps from Jenks and catcher A.J. Pierzynski after the final out.
"They had momentum going their way after the grand slam, and coming in and closing the momentum down was a boost for me," Jenks said. "Getting the first game in a series is always great."
Monday's victory improved the White Sox to 18-7 overall and maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the Tigers in the American League Central. It also upped their record to 5-2 on this eight-game journey away from home and gave Guillen his 200th career victory as a manager.
It even included a warning for both benches in the third, when Pierzynski was hit by a pitch and Vazquez threw behind Belliard in the bottom half. But the story on Monday was Thome.
His classy return, the crowd's questionable reaction, and business as usual for the White Sox over the last two years in Cleveland. It was a strange feeling for Thome being a visitor in his former home, but it also was an experience of closure for the affable veteran.
"There's been a lot of times where I walked through that front door, and you don't forget those memories," Thome said. "All and all, at the end of the day, the Indians gave me the shot to play in the big leagues and I'll always appreciate that. That's how you look at it."
"The biggest boo I ever heard was Albert Belle coming back here," added Guillen, who mentioned a few fans behind the White Sox dugout went beyond the normal jeering with a little name-calling toward Thome. "But you don't boo a class act like that. Go ahead and boo him. We will clap for him in Chicago and give him a standing ovation."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.