Jim Thome has reached the stage of his career when every home run, every RBI and every milestone is special.
Fortunately for him and the Chicago White Sox, the milestones are coming pretty often these days.
Thome hit a grand slam and a three-run homer for a career-high seven RBIs Friday night, carrying the Chicago White Sox to a 12-8 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
“As you get older … you definitely savor every moment,” said Thome, who turns 39 next month. “You don’t know how many more you’re going to have so you try to take advantage of it every time. I felt like a little kid again.”
He might have felt little but he hit big. His sixth-inning grand slam, which broke open what had been a one-run game, easily cleared the center-field fence and was estimated at 448 feet.
Thome has 557 career homers – only six fewer than Reggie Jackson, who ranks 12th on baseball’s all-time list – and can tell when he hits one purely.
“You don’t feel it off the bat,” he said. “When you hit a ball like that, everything kind of stops. It’s very special. You get the crowd into it. You come in the dugout, they’re all excited and it’s a big hit for the team. It’s pretty awesome when it happens, almost like time stops.”
With 14 RBIs in his last three games, Thome increased his career total to 1,545 and passed Harry Heilmann and Willie Stargell into 41st place on baseball’s all-time list. His previous single-game best was six; he did that four times, most recently at Baltimore on July 6, 2006 – which also was when he had hit his last grand slam.
White Sox captain Paul Konerko was stunned that Thome hadn’t “stumbled into” a seven-RBI game until Friday.
“Anytime Jim gets a career high at this point it kind of surprises you because he’s done so much,” Konerko said. “Tonight, he has a tough first couple of at-bats and he hangs right in there and – Boom! Boom! – he has a great night. That’s Jimmy. He’s a monster.”
It was 3-all in the fifth when Orioles starter Jason Berken walked Scott Podsednik and Jermaine Dye before hanging a 2-0 pitch that Thome lined over the right-field fence.
“I didn’t want to run it to 3-0,” Berken said. “I wanted to challenge him with a fastball in, and I left it over the plate.”
After Adam Jones‘ two-run homer off White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink made it 6-5, two Baltimore relievers loaded the bases in the sixth by walking Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez and hitting Dye with a pitch. Thome then launched Danys Baez‘s waist-high offering for his ninth career grand slam.
Popular for his on-field accomplishments and off-field charity work, Thome got a standing ovation, emerged from the dugout and waved to the fans.
Konerko also homered for the White Sox, who moved within 2 1/2 games of first-place Detroit in the AL Central. John Danks (8-6) allowed three runs in five innings for Chicago, which is 31-21 since starting the season 15-22.
Nick Markakis hit a two-run homer for the Orioles, who have a league-worst 14-28 road record.
Berken (1-7) gave up six runs in 4 1-3 innings and is winless since earning a victory in his May 26 major league debut.
“It didn’t look like he finished his pitches and his pitches were up,” Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said. “We had some great at-bats and put some (offensive) numbers up, but you’ve got to give yourself a chance … and from a pitching standpoint, we didn’t do that.”
Podsednik reached base five times (three singles, two walks) and scored three runs.
Thome also drew his 1,605th career walk, tying him with Darrell Evans for 11th all-time. … It was Thome’s 43rd multihomer game. … White Sox RHP Bartolo Colon (left knee inflammation) is scheduled to make one more rehab start before coming off the DL and pitching in a July 24 doubleheader at Detroit. … Orioles RHP Jeremy Guthrie, who has a viral infection, will start Sunday instead of Saturday as previously scheduled. Brad Bergesen has been moved up a day to start Saturday. … The Orioles plan to call up RHP David Hernandez to pitch Monday against the Yankees. … White Sox LF Carlos Quentin (left foot plantar fasciitis) is still up to a week away from returning to the team because he isn’t running well in rehab games, manager Ozzie Guillen said.