08/16/11 1:07 AM ET
Thome becomes eighth to hit 600 homers
Twins slugger joins elite with three-run shot off Tigers' Schlereth
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
Just one inning after mashing career home run No. 599, Thome sent a deep blast into the bullpen in left field off Tigers left-hander Daniel Schlereth to become the eighth player in Major League history to reach the 600 home run plateau.
Thome let loose a celebratory fist-pump after rounding first base, and made the trip around the bases to home plate where he was congratulated by his teammates and his family, including his father, Chuck, his wife, Andrea, and his children, Lila and Landon.
"It's an unbelievable night, obviously," Thome said. "I think it's something you never dream of doing. You dream about it, but when it finally happens, it's kind of surreal. It's a neat thing, it really is. Hitting home runs can be very difficult.
"You sit in bed at night and you think how's it going to be. How are you going to do this? It goes back, it goes back to trying to slow yourself down and not being too antsy, too hyped up, and it's just a great night. To share it with my teammates there at home plate, my family, obviously, I love you. It's a very, very special night."
Thome reached the hallowed mark with his second opposite-field blast of the night, this one coming on a 2-1 breaking ball from Schlereth, making the score 9-5 in favor of the Twins, who eventually won the game, 9-6. The three-run shot was Thome's 11th of the year and gave him his 48th career multi-homer game.
Thome, long known as one of baseball's good guys and a family man, said the first person he thought about when starting his home run trot was his mother, Joyce, who passed away in 2005 after a bout with cancer.
Thome, whose 65 home runs against the Tigers are his most against any club, became just the eighth player to reach the historic 600 home run club. He joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa as the only players with the distinction.
At 40 years, 353 days old, Thome also became the oldest player to hit his 600th homer. Sosa previously held that distinction at 38 years, 220 days, when he reached the mark in 2007.
But he was also the second-fastest to reach the mark, hitting his 600th homer in at-bat No. 8,137, which is second to Babe Ruth's 6,921 at-bats.
His 600th home run scored Trevor Plouffe and Justin Morneau, and was the cause of much celebration for the Twins players who ran onto the field as Thome's majestic blast cleared the left-field wall.
"It was awesome," Morneau said. "As soon as he hit it, I thought it was gone especially with the way the ball was carrying out there. I think I fist-pumped around second, I was excited, and I think he fist-pumped coming around first. It was a big home run, and a game-winner and everything that goes along with it, to make it more special."
It also makes Schlereth a part of baseball history, as he'll be known as the pitcher who gave up No. 600.
"I'm not proud of being the guy that gives up 600, but there's not a better guy in the game," Schlereth said. "I'm not exactly happy about it, 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."
The record tater came after Thome hit a go-ahead two-run shot off right-hander Rick Porcello in the sixth inning. His performance left his manager Ron Gardenhire in awe after the game.
"We had the privilege to see something not many in the game get to see, which is a 600th home run from a very special person and a great player," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So a lot of emotions. It's very exciting for our baseball team."
It was also a special sight for veteran Tigers manager Jim Leyland to see, as he was also proud that the crowd of 36,211 gave Thome a much-deserved standing ovation.
"I think that's a compliment to Jim Thome, and I'm very proud of our fans for the reception that they gave him," Leyland said. "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."
Thome has been one of the game's best sluggers throughout his 21-year big league career, topping 30 homers in 12 different seasons. Thome has hit 40 homers or more in six different seasons, including a career-best 52 homers in 2002.
Add it all up, and he's been one of the most prolific home run hitters of his era, and hasn't ceased to amaze his coaching staff or teammates.
"I can't even comprehend it, as a player and a manager, that many home runs," said Gardenhire, who hit four career homers in 710 big league at-bats. "Six hundred, that's pretty good. I do that in bowling. In three games."
Twins veteran Michael Cuddyer, who has 139 homers in 11 seasons, agreed with his manager, adding that he is in awe of the historic milestone.
"It's hitting 20 home runs for 30 years, or 30 a year for 20 years," said Cuddyer, who couldn't help but laugh about the absurdness of hitting 600 homers. "To be able to produce at the level he's produced for the amount of time he's produced, it's remarkable. It really is."
It was fun for Thome's teammates to watch his chase to 600, especially because the Twins have scuffled recently and have found themselves essentially out of contention in the American League Central.
The march to 600 has also featured some impressive homers, as Thome has the two longest home runs at Target Field this season.
Thome hit a 454-foot blast off A's reliever Jerry Blevins over the batter's eye in center field on April 10, and crushed a 464-foot homer into the upper deck in center field off Royals right-hander Felipe Paulino on July 17.
Thome, who re-signed with the Twins this offseason on a one-year deal worth $3 million after hitting 25 homers last season, has played with five different clubs. He's previously played for the Indians, White Sox, Phillies and Dodgers.
It was Thome's 12 years with Cleveland where he established himself as a home run threat, as he averaged 40 homers a year from 1996-02 before signing with Philadelphia as a free agent.
Thome led the National League in homers his first year with the Phillies, mashing 47 in 2003 before hitting 42 in '04. But he hit just seven homers while playing in just 59 games in '05, and was subsequently traded to the White Sox in the offseason.
Thome bounced back in Chicago, averaging 33 homers in almost four years with the team, including his 500th homer on Sept. 16, 2007, a walk-off winner against the Angels.
Thome was traded to the Dodgers in late August during the '09 season, giving him a shot to win his first World Series title. But he went homerless in 17 at-bats as the Dodgers lost the NL Championship Series to the Phillies.
Thome then signed with the Twins before the 2010 season and proved he still had plenty in the tank, hitting 25 taters in just 276 at-bats while posting a 1.039 OPS.
Thome decided to remain with the Twins this season, and his teammates couldn't be happier that he stayed with the club.
"I was extremely selfish this offseason because I wanted him to sign back," Cuddyer said with a grin. "I wanted him to be a part of the team, but I also wanted a chance to see him hit his 600th home run."
But now that Thome has reached that milestone, the only question is whether it'll be enough for him to be someday inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"That's not for me to decide," said the ever-humble Thome. "That would be a dream. It's pretty special. I don't think it's really hit home. To be mentioned and have the Hall of Fame mentioned, that's just very, very special. That's just really cool.