DETROIT (AP) — Jim Thome sat on the dugout bench, looking upbeat and relaxed less than 24 hours after hitting his 600th home run.
As word of the milestone made its way around baseball, messages began pouring in.
“It was pretty special,” Thome said. “A lot of ex-teammates, just friends in the game, and a lot of people from home. Pretty cool. Very cool.”
Thome hit homers No. 599 and 600 Monday night, becoming the eighth player to reach the mark. Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire left his slugger out of the starting lineup Tuesday, giving him a chance to rest. Thome seemed at ease after what was at times a frustrating pursuit.
The Detroit fans gave Thome a standing ovation as he rounded the bases during his big home run — a gesture that still resonated a day later.
“These are really, really knowledgeable baseball fans,” Gardenhire said. “The organization has been here a long time. These fans know the game and respect the game.”
Thome’s accomplishment — which seemed almost forgotten as he struggled a bit while approaching it — reverberated around the major leagues. He spent plenty of time Tuesday fulfilling media requests, but the sudden attention was well worth it.
On Monday night, Thome went out of his way to acknowledge Charlie Manuel, who managed him when he played for Cleveland and Philadelphia. Manuel returned the favor Tuesday.
“He’s a credit to the game. His attitude is off the charts,” Manuel said before the Phillies took on Arizona. “I think he’ll definitely get into the Hall of Fame, yes.”
Thome’s first big season came with the Indians in 1994, when he hit 20 homers in that strike-shortened season. He’s hit at least that many every year since, with the exception of this year (so far) and an injury-plagued 2005 with the Phillies.
Philadelphia traded him to the Chicago White Sox after that — helping pave the way for Ryan Howard to emerge — but Thome remains appreciated in the City of Brotherly Love. The Phillies played a video tribute to him Tuesday.
Thome revived his career with the White Sox, hitting 42 homers in 2006.
“This guy is a very special man in baseball,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. “When you’re good at something, people hate you, for whatever reason. … I think Jim Thome is one of the few people, few athletes, that everybody loves.”
Thome didn’t start Tuesday. Gardenhire joked that he had a case of “Verlanderitis” — in reference to Detroit ace Justin Verlander, who has been overpowering the American League this season. Of course, even Verlander has had his struggles against Thome, allowing seven home runs to him in 46 career at-bats.
The question now is whether the 40-year-old Thome will try to play again next year. He’s been bothered by injuries to his toe, oblique and quadriceps, but when he’s been in the lineup, he’s still hit home runs at a pretty impressive clip. The milestone homer was his 11th of the season in 185 at-bats.
Manuel says he thinks Thome wants to win a championship. He reached the World Series with Cleveland in 1995 and 1997, but lost both times.
Thome admitted he’d definitely like to win a title.
“When you’ve gone to two World Series and you haven’t accomplished it, it eats at you,” Thome said.
Thome says he’ll evaluate his options when the season ends. He signed a one-year contract with the Twins before this season.
“I think that’s something, after all this unwinds, you get home, you sit down, you realize, OK, do you want to come back another year? Or do you want to stay home and be with your kids?” Thome said. “That’s something that I know is the next chapter. There is a next chapter out there. It’s, when is that?”
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