Chicago Jim Thome pumped his fist as he rounded the bases and then came out for a curtain call. Even after all these years, a go-ahead home run on opening day is something to celebrate.
Thome hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, rallying the Chicago White Sox past the Kansas City Royals, 4-2, Tuesday in a season opener delayed a day because of bad weather.
Chicago trailed, 2-1, when Thome hit his 542nd career home run, connecting with two outs off Royals newcomer Kyle Farnsworth. Thome homered twice in last year’s opener off CC Sabathia, a loss to Cleveland.
“Opening day, there’s a lot of emotions,” the 38-year-old Thome said. “No matter how long you’ve played the game, you still get jittery, you still get that nervous excitement.”
The White Sox and Royals were supposed to play Monday, but a forecast of snow, high winds and cold forced them to postpone the game for a day. The conditions were far from ideal on Tuesday, with a gametime temperature of 43 degrees and 20 mph winds blowing through the ballpark.
Thome’s shot gave Chicago the win on a day when Mark Buehrle struggled, and it erased a solid outing by Kansas City’s Gil Meche.
“I got behind him 2-0 and I tried to come back on him with fastballs,” Farnsworth said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do and I think it was up a little bit. I tried to get ahead of him. When you fall behind good hitters like that, they make you pay.”
After years of losing, the Royals believe better days are coming. And for most of the afternoon, this looked like one.
Meche pitched seven strong innings, Alex Gordon homered and the Royals were in line for the win until Farnsworth (0-1) came on in the eighth.
Josh Fields led off with a bunt single and moved to third with one out on Chris Getz’s single. After Carlos Quentin struck out, Thome homered to center field and a crowd that had been listless went wild, drawing a curtain call from the slugger.
“He’s a bad man,” teammate Paul Konerko said. “There’s no other way to say it. Jimmy’s hit a lot of homers and had a lot of big hits and played a long time, but he’s still as hungry to do that as any guy that’s ever played as long as he has. That’s what sets him apart, I think. He’s out there grinding everyday like he’s a rookie.”
Winning pitcher Octavio Dotel (1-0) struck out the side in the eighth after Clayton Richard threw two scoreless innings. Bobby Jenks pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.
Gordon gave Kansas City a 1-0 lead when he connected off Buehrle in the second. Chicago tied it in the bottom half on Fields’ RBI single, and the Royals went ahead in the fifth when Jose Guillen scored on Gordon’s forceout.
That looked like it might be enough for Meche, who won 14 games last season. The right-hander allowed one run and seven hits, struck out six with no walks and felt he could have pitched the eighth.
“I told (manager Trey Hillman) that,” Meche said. “But we have some guys out there who have done it before. We just fell short today. Get them tomorrow and try to win the series hopefully.”
It was a rather forgettable afternoon for Buehrle, who tied Billy Pierce’s club record by starting his seventh opener. That bit of trivia aside, the three-time All-Star struggled with his control and consistently found himself in jams.
A 15-game winner last season, he allowed two runs and six hits while striking out three, walking three and hitting two batters over five innings. He said he was embarrassed and even apologized to manager Ozzie Guillen, yet he was also relieved.
“As bad as I pitched and to keep them to only two runs, I’m happy about it,” Buehrle said.
A single by Thome helped the White Sox load the bases with none out in the bottom half. Fields hit an RBI single, but Jermaine Dye was easily thrown out at the plate when he tried to score from second.
Fields, replacing the departed Joe Crede at third, also saved a run in the fifth when he stabbed Billy Butler’s grounder behind the bag and threw home to force Mark Teahen with the bases loaded. Jose Guillen then scored from third on a forceout by Gordon to make it 2-1, but in the end, the day belonged to Thome.