Jim Thome did wonders Wednesday for the White Sox's advance ticket sales this weekend.
He didn't hit a home run in his final two at-bats and further fueled anticipation in his drive toward the 500-home run mark.
The expectation intensified when Thome swatted his 499th home run in the Sox's 7-4 victory over Cleveland with a liner off Jake Westbrook's a 2-0 pitch inside the right field foul pole in the fourth inning.
"It has been pretty awesome," said Thome, who will resume his pursuit Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels and former Cleveland teammate Bartolo Colon, whom he never has faced. "I guess it's kind of reality now. It's getting close."
Thome has provided the bulk of the Sox's entertainment in an otherwise dismal season. Aside from Mark Buehrle's no-hitter on April 18, there have been few highlights at U.S. Cellular Field.
Manager Ozzie Guillen hopes his players will relish Thome's milestone the same way he was a part of Tom Seaver's 300th career victory and Dennis Martinez becoming the winningest Latin American pitcher in the majors.
"Every time Thome hits a home run, it makes it easy to come to this room and talk about the game," Guillen said after the Sox (62-84) avoided a sweep by the first-place Indians.
The Sox will have their traditional Halfway to St. Patrick's Day promotion Friday, but Thome will be the main attraction.
He admitted he tried to end the suspense by swinging for the fences in his final two at-bats. In fact, many fans let out a collective groan when he shattered his bat in the fifth inning.
But that swing produced a two-run single during a three-run rally that expanded the Sox lead to 5-1.
"I was trying to get a pitch to drive," Thome said. "The one [foul ball] I almost fouled out of the stadium. There's a lot of emotion that goes through you. That's what makes it so tough to do, control your emotions and keep them in but be ready to hit."
Thome was cheered on by a front row of fans that included his wife, father, daughter and sister.
"My little girl [Lila] was there, jumping around," Thome said. "I was looking at my dad and sister. That's the great thing about baseball. It kind of brings your family together. The tradition … you come together, not only as teammates, but family as well."
After hitting his 499th homer, the fans stood each time Thome came to the plate, with a batboy supplying home plate umpire Gerry Davis with balls that were secretly marked.
Thome and the Sox hope to announce plans soon to reward the fan who retrieves the 500th homer as compensation for the ball that Thome plans to deliver personally to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hitting tips by Juan Uribe haven't been discussed, but Uribe cranked a solo homer and needs one more to reach the 20-home run mark for the third time in four seasons.
"This kid can go out there and do some damage," Guillen said. "The potential he has, he should be better than what he is."
But there's no question about Thome's current homer streak. He has hit eight in his last 24 games and is 10-for-23 lifetime against Westbrook with three homers and 10 RBIs.
The Sox already have scheduled a Jim Thome Bobblehead promotion for Sunday, and Thome was eager to hit his 500th homer at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It will be cool," Thome said. "Hopefully it will happen here. The White Sox fans deserve it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times