Texas slugger Sammy Sosa reached his latest milestone against the perfect opponent.
One night after becoming the fifth player to hit his 600th homer, Sosa wraps up his first-ever series against his former team when the Rangers host the Chicago Cubs on Thursday.
Sosa hit the historic shot in the fifth inning of the Rangers’ 7-3 win on Wednesday. It was Sosa’s 12th homer in 62 games this season since signing a minor league deal and making the roster in spring training with Texas, the franchise that gave him his start.
Sosa played for the Cubs from 1992-2004, winning the 1998 NL MVP award and making seven All-Star teams while hitting 545 homers. He hit .308 with a career-high 66 home runs and 158 RBIs in ’98 and was part of a memorable home run chase with St. Louis’ Mark McGwire, the first major leaguer to hit 70 homers.
“It was something that cannot be explained,” said Sosa, who had never faced the Cubs before Tuesday’s series opener. “Getting my 600th against the Chicago Cubs, and my first team (was) the Texas Rangers. It’s like everything clicked. My emotions, I don’t know what they are.”
Since ’98, however, Sosa has been followed by accusations of steroid use, and he was caught with a corked bat in 2003. Sosa did not play last season after hitting .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 102 games with Baltimore in 2005.
Though Wednesday’s homer was just his second in 22 games, he ranks seventh in the AL with 52 RBIs. He insists he did not return to baseball simply to reach 600 homers.
“I’m showing the whole world I still have a few years left in the tank,” he said. “I’m hungry every day. I’m here because I want to compete. Everything depends on how I feel a few more years. I feel great. Nothing can stop me right now.”
Despite the addition of Sosa to their roster this season, the Rangers (27-44) own the worst record in baseball. However, Wednesday’s victory was their fourth in six games.
The Cubs (32-38), meanwhile, lost for the third time in four games. Koyie Hill started at catcher after the embattled Michael Barrett was traded along with cash to San Diego for backup catcher Rob Bowen and minor league outfielder Kyler Burke earlier in the day.
Barrett has been a part of two skirmishes with Cubs pitchers this season. On June 1, he and Carlos Zambrano were involved in a scuffle that left Barrett with a black eye and stitches in his lip, and less than two weeks later, Barrett and pitcher Rich Hill had a verbal exchange in the dugout.
“You look at this deal from the standpoint that we’re getting a catcher we can control for the next three or four years and we’re getting a nice young left-handed bat that we’re putting into our system who can grow and be on our big-league club in the near future,” manager Lou Piniella said.
Third baseman Mark DeRosa left Wednesday night’s game because of a left eye migraine that affected his sight for several minutes. However, Piniella said he was fine and would play Thursday.
The Cubs will hand the ball to Ted Lilly (5-4, 3.69 ERA) in the finale. Lilly earned his first win since May 18 on Friday, allowing one run in eight innings of a 4-1 victory over San Diego.
In between victories, Lilly went 0-2 with an 8.47 ERA in four starts. The veteran left-hander recorded just two outs in his previous start in Atlanta on June 10 before he was ejected for hitting Edgar Renteria with a pitch.
Lilly is 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 12 career outings - 11 starts - against the Rangers. Sosa is hitless with two strikeouts in three career at-bats against him.
Texas will counter with Vicente Padilla (3-8, 6.57), who gave up 12 hits and six runs in five innings in his first win since May 21, Friday’s 7-6 victory in Cincinnati. The win was the first on the road for Padilla, who is 2-3 with a 3.93 ERA at home.
Padilla is 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA in 14 career appearances, including five starts, against the Cubs.