Looking to become the fifth player in major league history with 600 homers, Sosa makes his first appearance against the team with which he hit most of them as the Texas Rangers open a three-game set with the Cubs on Tuesday.
“It would be nice,” Sosa told the Cubs’ official Web site about the prospect of hitting his 600th homer against Chicago. “Definitely exciting, because everybody will be watching. I expect to have a good week this coming week and try to take care of business at the plate. I’m one away from being able to continue my life.”
Sosa was one of Chicago’s most popular athletes for much of his tenure with the Cubs between 1992 and 2004, hitting 545 of his 599 career home runs. But the relationship between him, his team and the city soured in his final month with the club, when Sosa closed the season batting .227 in his last 24 games while the Cubs blew a lead in the NL wild card race with a 2-7 finish.
That was just the beginning of a dramatic divorce between Sosa and the Cubs.
With the team already eliminated from the playoffs, Sosa arrived late for the season finale, and left Wrigley Field before the game was over. One of his teammates smashed Sosa’s stereo in the team clubhouse, others demanded an apology and Sosa was eventually fined for his actions.
In the offseason, he was traded to Baltimore, where he batted .221 with 14 homers in 2005 before sitting out the 2006 season.
After signing a minor league contract with Texas (26-43) in January, Sosa has finally regained some of the swagger he had in his glory days in Chicago. He is batting only .246, but has 11 home runs and ranks among the AL leaders with 51 RBIs.
Aramis Ramirez, Sosa’s teammate in Chicago in 2003 and 2004, appreciates what Sosa did for the Cubs, as well as what he has done since his return to baseball.
“He was a big guy here,” Ramirez said. “He used to say, it was Michael Jordan and Sammy Sosa. He played here for a long time, he was MVP. What else can you say? He did a lot here.
“He’s having a nice season. It takes a lot for a 38-year-old to sit down a year and come back and hit 10 home runs and more than 40 (RBIs).”
Sosa hit a grand slam for his 599th homer Friday against Cincinnati—his first homer in 71 at-bats since hitting No. 598 on May 22. He hopes to avoid a similar drought with the milestone one swing away.
He would join Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only players with at least 600 career home runs.
“It’s going to be a great series,” Sosa said. “I’m excited.”
Sosa and the Rangers are hoping to build on a strong finish to a six-game road trip. After dropping the first two games, they won three of the last four, capped by an 11-4 victory over the Reds on Sunday.
The Cubs (31-37), meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 homestand, but they managed only three runs and 11 hits in losing the last two games to San Diego. They suffered their second-largest margin of defeat this season in an 11-3 loss on Sunday.
“We can’t get too down,” first baseman Derrek Lee said. “They just came out and swung the bats well.”
It’s uncertain if Lee will miss any of this series after being handed a five-game suspension for his role in Saturday’s bench-clearing brawl with San Diego. He could appeal the decision, which would at least push back when he must begin sitting out.
The Cubs, meanwhile, hope to bounce back behind left-hander Sean Marshall (3-2, 2.12 ERA), who has won three straight starts. Marshall hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his five starts since he was called up from Triple-A Iowa.
He held Seattle to two runs and seven hits in eight innings in Chicago’s 3-2 win on Wednesday.
Marshall, who has never faced Texas, will match up against the Rangers’ Robinson Tejeda (5-7, 6.49). Tejeda has lost four of his last five starts while posting a 10.48 ERA since May 23.
The right-hander was reached for four runs in four innings on Wednesday in an 8-1 defeat at Pittsburgh.
Tejeda didn’t get a decision in his one career start against the Cubs despite holding them to one run and four hits in six innings on Aug. 3, 2005, when he pitched for Philadelphia.
The Rangers won two of three games against the Cubs in the only previous series between the clubs from June 18-20, 2002.