Jim Thome needs 7 homers to reach 500

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CHICAGO (AP)—Jim Thome is seven homers away from being the third player this season and 23rd in major league history to reach 500 homers, but he’s got other achievements on his mind less than a week before his 37th birthday.

The White Sox DH wants to go back to the World Series. It’s been 10 years since he was there as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

With his career winding down, Thome isn’t going to make it this year with the suprisingly woeful Chicago White Sox, who less than two years ago were parading to celebrate the team’s first World Series winner in 88 years. Now they’re trying to stay out of the AL Central basement.

“You go to spring training and you do everything to prepare in this game to play the last game of the year. I’ve been very fortunate and I’ve been close, but I haven’t accomplished that ultimate goal,” Thome said Thursday night before the White Sox’s game against the Boston Red Sox was rained out.

“It still, to this day it eats at you. It eats at you that back in ’97 we were so close and never accomplished it. It just goes to show you how fragile it can be sometimes because you never know when you’re going to be back.”

The Red Sox (2004) and the White Sox two years ago erased decades without a championship by winning the World Series. Thome came to Chicago last season and the White Sox won 90 games, but the defending champions didn’t even make the playoffs.

Thome knows how difficult it is to win one. He played with the Indians against the Braves in 1995. And he was sure two years later the Indians were on their way to a title against the Florida Marlins.

“I remember the seventh game in 97. `Wow, we’re going to win this thing,’ and unfortunately we didn’t,” he said.

Thome had 42 homers and 109 RBIs in his first season with the White Sox but his numbers have dropped off, as have those of several other Chicago run producers.

After being slowed by a rib cage injury early in the season and later by back problems, he has 21 homers and 66 RBIs in 99 games.

“No matter how long you play the game, I think you can learn from everything, no matter whether you have a good year or a bad year, you reevaluate your year when it’s over and say ‘Look, this is what I need to go home this winter and try to concentrate and improve on,”’ he said.

If Thome doesn’t connect for seven more homers in the final 36 games—Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas got to 500 earlier this season—he’ll almost certainly reach it next season. Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said this week he’d consider batting Thome leadoff in the final month just to give him more at-bats.

Also approaching 500 homers are Boston’s Manny Ramirez—Thome’s former Cleveland teammate—and Detroit’s Gary Sheffield in a year in which Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron and became baseball’s leader.

Thome didn’t get a chance Thursday night against Boston’s Josh Beckett. The game was called after a wait of 2 hours, 19 minutes at U.S. Cellular Field.

Beckett and Curt Schilling will pitch in a split doubleheader Friday against Chicago’s Jon Garland and John Danks.

“We all know it’s going to be a long day at best tomorrow,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.

The forecast for Friday is not promising, either.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Francona said. “We’ll show up at the cages and play when they tell us to.” ^Notes: Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia had been in the lineup Thursday night despite being hit in the left elbow by a pitch Wednesday forcing him to leave the game against Tampa Bay. X-rays were negative. He was scratched Thursday after taking BP in the cages when his elbow hurt. He’ll be re-evaluated Friday but Alex Cora will play the opener. … LHP Javier Lopez, called up from the Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket club, arrived at U.S. Cellular Field from Buffalo, but it took a while. Violent storms diverted his plane to Milwaukee and he arrived after a trip of more than seven hours. … The White Sox will be playing their fourth doubleheader of the season.

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