Jim Thome continued his march toward history on Tuesday night in Chicago, blasting his 493rd career home run to help the White Sox to a 5-2 victory over the Royals.
In a season where there has been little to cheer about, Thome's stretch of three home runs in his last four games has given his teammates something to rally around.
"The way this year has gone, it has been rough," said Paul Konerko, who hit a home run of his own in the victory. "That is definitely one of the highlights that we are looking forward to, not to put a whole bunch of pressure on him. But with Jim, as everybody knows, there are a lot of guys that have reached 500 home runs and their teammates haven't cared about it as much as we're going to care about Jim doing it."
Thome's two-run blast came off Royals starter Leo Nunez, who became the 330th different pitcher to surrender a long ball to the White Sox designated hitter. It was Thome's 21st of the season, tying the veteran slugger for 23rd with Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig on the all-time list.
"Those are awesome names," Thome said. "As you play, as a young guy and you come up through the big leagues, when you mention those kind of names, it really puts it in perspective."
The question now for Thome is whether he will be able to reach the 500 home run milestone during the 2007 season? His decreased season home run total is due in large part to an injury that forced him on the disabled list for a large part of May.
"It is tough because you can't go and try to hit home runs," Thome said. "I've always said that. Home runs are a unique thing. They are getting the right pitch, and you got to put the good part of the bat on it. You may go two weeks and not hit one. It is fun while you do and you understand you can get hot and cold while it is going on."
Thome's effort was just one of three home runs hit by the home team, accounting for four of their five runs.
Danny Richar chipped in his third career home run and second in the last two days to help the power surge. The White Sox bats have been quiet for most of 2007, leaving the club well off its 236 home runs in 2006, but have come alive in recent ballgames.
"In the American League, you have to have a threat to go deep and hit some home runs," Konerko said. "Being in the middle of the lineup, there is no question that three or four of us have to be swinging the bats and being dangerous. That is probably something that we haven't done enough of this year."
The power came in support of Javier Vazquez, who recorded his eighth win in his last nine decisions. Vazquez lasted six-plus innings and gave up two runs (one earned) while striking out just three.
The Royals battled Vazquez early, elevating his pitch count with several long at-bats. But Vazquez managed to keep the Sox in the ballgame to earn his team-leading 11th win of the season.
"Javy is throwing the ball well," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I think today was tough for him, because those guys fouled off a lot of pitches. Right now he is being real good. He's staying away from the big innings. Staying with more confidence every day. When you have confidence and believe in yourself, that is the kind of thing you are going to do."
Guillen followed Vazquez with a string of relievers. After using a total of seven pitchers in Monday's 4-3 victory, the Sox skipper used seven again on Tuesday, including four different pitchers in the eighth.
Three pitchers -- Mike Myers, Ryan Bukvich and Matt Thornton -- threw just one pitch each before being pulled from the ballgame.
"When we have the lead, I have 13 guys in the 'pen that I have to use," Guillen said. "The bullpen did a good job because they threw zeros. I think when you play this game, you have to pick each other up, and they did that today."
The Sox jumped to an early lead against Nunez with a run in the first inning, thanks to an RBI double from Thome. The Royals got an unearned run in the fourth and tacked on one more in the sixth, but found little consistent success against any of the Sox pitchers.
Scott Podsednik was removed from the ballgame in the top of the sixth inning. He strained a right rib cage muscle while hitting in the fourth inning.
Podsednik has been on the disabled list twice this season, including one stint due to a strained left rib cage muscle. Guillen reported that, for now, his left fielder is day-to-day.
"Those injuries are pretty hard to heal right away," Guillen said. "I just feel bad for him. This guy wants to stay in the game. It is frustrating for him because he can't play the way he wants to play all year because of injury."
Alex Gyr is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less