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Thome crashes 600 home-run club

DETROIT — The ball was in safe hands.

As the Minnesota Twins finished off their 9-6 victory over the Tigers on Monday night, Landon Thome held one of the most precious baseballs his father ever hit.

Jim Thome had done it, swatting the 600th home run of his career in the seventh inning. The ball landed in the Tigers bullpen behind the left field fence, and later Landon gripped the piece of baseball history with his little hands.

"It's an unbelievable night, obviously," Thome said. "It's something you never dream of doing. You dream about it, but when it finally happens it's kind of surreal."

He is the eighth player in major league history to hit 600 career home runs. Thome joins an elite group that includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

Thome is the first player since Rodriguez to join the 600 club. Rodriguez did it on Aug. 4 of last year.

Thome entered Monday with 598 career homers. No. 599 happened in the sixth inning off Tigers righthander Rick Porcello, a 412-foot blast to left-center. Thome was back at the plate in the seventh, this time facing lefthander Daniel Schlereth.

With Trevor Plouffe on third and Justin Morneau on first, Thome took a fastball low, a curveball low and inside and another curve for a strike. He pointed his bat toward center field — like he's done thousands of times during his career — brought it back and waited.

Schlereth came in with another breaking ball, this one up and over the plate. Thome unleashed his violent swing and sent a high drive to left, high enough to make Harmon Killebrew proud.

Left fielder Delmon Young—who had been traded by the Twins to the Tigers earlier in the day—scrambled back toward the fence before running out of room and getting an up-close look at history as the ball landed in the Tigers bullpen.

"The only thing I'm really going to miss is not seeing Jim get 600, unless he hits it here," Young said in discussing his trade before the game. He got his wish.

Thome pumped his right fist as he touched first base. Twins players threw their arms in the air and spilled out of the visitors dugout. After a moment to absorb the fact that their team had just given up a three-run homer, the announced Comerica Park crowd of 36,211 rose to its feet and cheered.

A young fan behind the visitors dugout, dressed in Tigers gear, held up a sign that read, "Thome is my Homie."

Michael Cuddyer and Morneau were first among Twins players to hug Thome after he touched home plate. His father Chuck, wife Andrea and children Lila and Landon were allowed onto the field to share the moment with one of the most fear sluggers in baseball history.

"It's just a great night, to share it with my teammates and my family," Thome said.

It took a little while longer than expected for the historic blast to come. Thome, who has 11 homers this season, has battled injuries throughout the year, forcing manager Ron Gardenhire to be extra careful about using him on consecutive days.

But what 40-year-old doesn't have a few aches and pains? Thome landed on the disabled list twice this year, once because of a strained left oblique and then because of a strained left quadriceps.

What stands out about Thome's feat is his ability to still be a power threat so late in his career.

At age 40, Thome easily is the oldest player to swat his 600th home run. Sammy Sosa was 38 years and 220 days old when he hit No. 600. Thome has benefitted from being a designated hitter for most of his career, but there's still a level of durability needed to maintain strength and be a great home run hitter for so long. Back problems later in his career have forced him to closely watch his health.

Thome has hit 265 homers on the road, 65 against the Tigers, 16 at Comerica Park and 11 at old Tiger Stadium. He's hit 114 homers against lefthanders, 60 on Mondays and 58 in the seventh inning.

Minnesota's Jim Thome watches his 600th career home run in the seventh inning against Detroit Monday. The three-run shot came off Tigers reliever Daniel Schlereth. - AP