6-20-07 - Sammy Sosa's 600th homer resembled so many that came before -- except this time the Chicago Cubs were on the other side.
Playing for the Texas Rangers after a year out of baseball, Sosa became the fifth member of the 600-homer club Wednesday night when he connected against his former team.
After driving a 1-2 pitch to right-center for a solo shot in the fifth inning of Texas' 7-3 victory, Slammin' Sammy bounced out of the batter's box with his trademark hop and thrust his right fist into the air before reaching first base. He was mobbed at home plate by his teammates while the scoreboard showed pictures of all five members of the elite club: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Sosa.
"It was something that cannot be explained," Sosa said. "Getting my 600th against the Chicago Cubs, and my first team (was) the Texas Rangers. It's liked everything clicked. My emotions, I don't know what they are."
Sosa played for the Cubs from 1992-2004, winning the '98 NL MVP award and making seven All-Star teams while hitting 545 homers with Chicago.
No. 600 came off Jason Marquis, the 364th pitcher the 38-year-old Sosa has homered off in his 18 major league seasons.
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. He hit his first big league homer with the Rangers in 1989.
Sosa also has 52 RBIs, which ranks seventh in the American League. He has homered against every major league team in his career.
After going into the dugout with his teammates, Sosa came out for a curtain call. He blew kisses to the crowd and acknowledged the Cubs' dugout with a pump of his fist, and Chicago manager Lou Piniella pointed back toward the slugger. Sosa had never faced the Cubs before the series opener Tuesday night.
A countdown banner that has hung in right field for about a month was flipped from 599 to 600 -- and a new banner was unfurled in center field congratulating Sosa for joining the 600-homer club.
Chants of "Sam-my! Sam-my!" prompted a second curtain call from Sosa.
The cheering hadn't even subsided before Frank Catalanotto followed with a homer, the 75th of his career, to give the Rangers a 6-1 lead.
While Sosa has had an impressive comeback this season, his pursuit of 600 homers was overshadowed by the Rangers (27-44) having the worst record in baseball and Bonds' chase to catch Aaron atop the career home run list.
Bonds has 748 homers -- seven shy of Aaron's mark -- with only three in his last 97 at-bats. Ruth is third on the home run list with 714 and Mays is fourth with 660.
Sosa had a similar homer drought. No. 600 was only his second in 22 games -- a span of 83 at-bats in which his only other homer was a grand slam Friday at Cincinnati.
"Sammy's had a great career," Piniella said before the series began. "It's maybe apropos that here the Cubbies are in town. ... He was an icon in Chicago for a long time, was loved."
When Sosa returned to the majors, he insisted he was coming back for more than the 12 homers he needed to reach 600.
"Definitely," Sosa reiterated after the game. "I'm showing the whole world I still have a few years left in the tank. 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."
A tumultuous 2005 season almost drove Sosa out of the game for good.
It started during spring training that year when he testified before Congress about possible steroid use in baseball, and it didn't get much better from there. He hit .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 102 games with Baltimore before going home to the Dominican Republic, where he stayed for more than a year.
Like Mark McGwire and Bonds, Sosa is suspected of using steroids before they were banned by baseball, and he was caught with a corked bat in front of his home crowd when he played for the Cubs in 2003.
He has never been penalized for a positive steroids test, however, and was not involved in the BALCO scandal that has dogged Bonds.
"I'm quite sure a lot of people were skeptical about him for many reasons," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But he showed us he was serious about coming back."
Besides the consecutive homers, Marquis (5-4) walked four batters that scored without a hit. Those runs came on two errors, a double-play grounder and a groundout. The right-hander is 0-3 in eight starts since a three-hit shutout against Pittsburgh on May 9 that was his fifth straight victory.
Kameron Loe (3-6), coming off eight shutout innings against the Pirates in a start Thursday that ended his six-game losing streak, allowed three runs over 6 2-3 innings.
Alfonso Soriano was 3-for-4 with two doubles and his 12th homer, a solo shot with two outs in the fifth for the Cubs' first run. Koyie Hill, the starting catcher after Michael Barrett was traded earlier Wednesday, hit a two-run homer in the seventh.
Sosa is the only player with three 60-homer seasons. He hit .308 with a career-high 66 homers and 158 RBIs in his 1998 MVP season for the Cubs -- and was part of that memorable home run chase with McGwire, the first major leaguer to hit 70 homers.
Sosa holds the major league record by hitting homers in 45 ballparks, adding Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and two other stadiums to that list this season. He also homered for the first time at Cleveland's Jacobs Field and at Disney World in a series against Tampa Bay.
The slugger was 16 when Texas signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1985. He was still a lanky kid in 1989 when he made his major league debut and hit his first home run, the only one he had in 25 games for the Rangers before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox and later to the Cubs.