DETROIT – Jim Thome’s back was aching, his toe was throbbing and his quad was cramping, turning his pursuit of 600 home runs into a painful endeavor that made him wonder if he would even reach the milestone before season’s end.
On Monday night, Thome finally harnessed the power again in that pure left-handed swing of his, sending two home runs sailing over the fence at spacious Comerica Park. When No. 600 disappeared over left fielder Delmon Young’s head in the seventh inning, Thome raised his right fist while rounding first base.
His quiet chase, which seemed to vanish from baseball’s consciousness as injuries slowed him down, was finally complete.
“You dream about it but when it finally happens it’s kind of surreal,” Thome said. “It’s a neat thing, it really is.”
The 40-year-old Thome became the eighth player to reach 600, hitting a two-run homer in the sixth inning for No. 599, then a three-run shot in the seventh. The milestone came on a 2-1 pitch from Daniel Schlereth.
Both homers were hit to the opposite field. When No. 600 went over the fence, the crowd in Detroit came to its feet to applaud Thome. Only Babe Ruth needed fewer at-bats to reach 600, doing so in 6,921. Thome’s milestone came in No. 8,167.
Thome’s 65 home runs against Detroit are his most against any team.
The Tigers posted a congratulatory message on the scoreboard after Thome’s homer, and the Twins came out to greet him at home plate.
Fighting injuries during a frustrating season in Minnesota, Thome hasn’t received nearly the amount of national publicity that his predecessors who reached the milestone did. Even Derek Jeter’s accomplishment of 3,000 hits earlier this season dwarfed the attention Thome has been getting for a chase that’s far more rare.
Only seven hitters have hit more home runs than the burley Thome: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. Rodriguez joined the 600-homer club last August.
“Welcome to the club,” Mays said in a video shown on the Twins’ television broadcast.
Unlike Bonds, Rodriguez and Sosa, Thome has eluded suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. His country-strong physique was never chiseled like some of the hulking sluggers who proliferated his generation.
From the moment he belted his first homer – off Steve Farr on Oct. 4, 1991 – to the big one on Monday night, Thome has always seemed like a natural.
It was perhaps fitting that Thome reached No. 600 in a matchup of A.L. Central rivals. He hit 334 home runs with Cleveland and 134 with the Chicago White Sox.
As he rounded the bases, his teammates poured onto the field and his family, including his father, wife and children met him at home plate.
“I thought of my mother,” Thome said. “She must’ve been looking down upon us. And being there with us. I know she’s here in heart and spirit.”
Thome is the oldest person to hit his 600th homer. Sosa previously held that mark at 38 years, 220 days. He reached the milestone in 2007.