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Making a case for Thome's Hall of Fame credentials

Derek Jeter's quest for 3,000 hits was an obsession in the Northeast, although the YES Network will have you believe it spread from sea to shining sea. Same for Alex Rodriguez's quest for 600 home runs. Jim Thome's drive to 600 homers? Quiet. Unassuming. Just like his career. 2

Some of that, of course, was because Thome became the first man in history to belt No. 600 in the next at-bat after connecting for his 599th. Both came Monday night in Detroit against the Tigers.

But a lot of it is because Thome has just gone about his job without a lot of fanfare since his first call-up to Cleveland in 1991. Would someone find me a bad word said about the man? There are none. To teammates, fans and media, Thome is as professional as they come. I've dealt with him dozens of times over the years and it was always an interesting conversation to be a part of.

You remember the big moments, like his bat flip after his 450-foot bomb against the Braves in Game Five of the 1995 World Series. But this corner also recalls his rehab stint with the Bisons during the 1998 Governors Cup finals, a two-game appearance that had the Durham Bulls and parent Tampa Bay Rays up in arms.

Not much anyone could do. All of Cleveland minor league's teams were already done and Thome needed at-bats. Thome was his usual personable self and had two hits and a walk in the series opener (but also struck out on a full-count pitch with the bases loaded). In the second game he was 0 for 4 with an error.

So did we spend two nights here watching a future Hall of Famer? This corner says absolutely yes. But I've seen plenty of dissenting views the last few days too.

He was never spectacular defensively, although I always thought he was very good once he moved from third to first base. He hasn't played the field regularly since 2004 and not at all since 2007. So be it. It's not like you'd be voting for an Edgar Martinez-like career DH.

Thome has never been an MVP, never even been higher than fourth in any year. Didn't win a World Series either. But he's in the top 20 in slugging and OPS, ahead of names such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ralph Kiner, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott and Reggie Jackson in the two categories.

And here's some perspective on 600 home runs: While Jeter was No. 28 to 3,000 hits, only eight men have got to 600.

No. 25 who played mostly for San Francisco and stays nameless here is atop the list at 762 but his issues have long been documented. Same for A-Rod (626) and Sammy Sosa (609).

The rest of the list is a Who's Who of the game: Aaron (755), Ruth (714), Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630). And then there's Thome. That's it. And not a whisper of steroids either.

Based on ages and recent performance, Albert Pujols is probably the only player who is going to get to 600 in the next 8-10 years. So that further adds luster to Thome's accomplishment. See you in Cooperstown later in this decade.

> Prince on Bucs

The Pirates are dead in the water in the National League Central and none other than Brewers slugger Prince Fielder says Jerry Meals' blown call in the 19th inning of their July 26 game in Atlanta might be to blame.

"You play 19 innings, and that happens? Are you kidding me?" Fielder told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week. "That would kill me. The Pirates put everything they had on the field that night. They were riding high, feeling confident, and that happened. That's a killer."

The Pirates entered the weekend 5-16 since the Meals fiasco, turning a 53-47 season into an uphill climb just to finish .500 for the first time since 1992.

"The thing that gets you is that the Pirates turned it around," Fielder said. "They really did. They turned the corner, but you can lose it after something like that."

> Brooks to Buffalo?

Wouldn't mind seeing the Mets giving North Tonawanda native Ricky Brooks a chance with the Bisons before the season ends. He's had 12 straight scoreless relief appearances for Double-A Binghamton, where his season stats of 2-7, 4.11 in 46 games are pretty deceiving, especially when you consider he's toiling for a last-place club.

Brooks' ERA would be nearly a run lower (3.28) if you take away a seven-run blowup he had July 5 against Portland. He has not given up a run since. Since June 29, he's at 0.44 minus that outing. Obviously, you can't take it away but that game has proven to be the fluke.

Brooks has 52 strikeouts and 18 walks for the season and opponents are batting .114 against him in August. That's called finishing with a flourish.

> Double trouble

How bad did things get for the Red Sox last week against the Rays? They had three runs and nine hits in a three-game stretch over two days. It marked the first time since 1974 they failed to get more than three hits in three consecutive games and extended their streak of games without a mere double to five.

When Tampa Bay's James Shields and Jeff Niemann threw complete games in both halves of Tuesday's day-night doubleheader, it marked the first complete games in a twinbill since and the Brewers did it with six-hitters against the Tigers on Aug. 13, 1993.

Who threw those? Former Buffalo reliever Angel Miranda tossed a 6-1 win in the first game and current Herd pitching coach Ricky Bones won the nightcap, 7-1. Bones improved to 8-8 with that win en route to a career-high victory and 11-11 record that season.

> A funny choice

In the wake of the Blue Jays' sign stealing scandal that erupted last week, jokesters at the Toronto Star did a witty web poll asking who could lead the Blue Jays back to the World Series. It included the usual suspects: GM Alex Anthopoulos, slugger Jose Bautista, ace Ricky Romero, prospect Brett Lawrie among others.

One of the other choices? The Man in White. As in the guy rumored to be lifting his arms in the center field seats to tip batters to pitches.

> Hesketh gets new role

Former UB star and major league pitcher Joe Hesketh has joined the staff of Sports Performance Park in Eastern Hills Mall and will be managing the Titans Showcase Team, a travel team for high school juniors aiming for college ball.

Tryouts will be held today at 4 p.m. and again this Saturday and Sunday at 4 at the facility, near the mall's food court.

Hesketh pitched 339 games from 1984-1994 with Montreal, Atlanta and Boston. He was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.


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