Jim Thome calls it Cat and Mouse, this mind game or chess match between the batter and the pitcher. Seems appropriate because as any mouse will tell you, when you make a mistake, cats usually don't miss.
They swallow you whole.
In the fifth inning Monday, Royals righthander Sean O'Sullivan faced Thome for the third time of the afternoon, and quickly got ahead in the count, 0-2, with a slider and a change-up before missing with two pitches -- a sinker and a slider -- to make it 2-2.
"It was one of those things," Thome explained later. "He had been throwing me change-ups all day. My first at-bat, I had a couple change-ups that he had thrown that I had missed, I fouled them off. And then that at-bat, as that sequence had gone on, he had thrown me a breaking ball before, so I was kind of in the middle of him throwing a fastball and or a change-up."
O'Sullivan, who served up Thome's 560th career homer on Aug. 5, 2009, and Royals pitching coach Bob McClure had spoken about the importance of mixing his pitches against this lefthanded hitting brute. "We didn’t throw the same pitch twice to that guy," O'Sullivan said.
But by this third at-bat, Thome had seen everything in O'Sullivan's arsenal. He had set the trap. O'Sullivan threw a 77-mph change-up below the knees.
"You look at the tape, it was down," O'Sullivan said. "He just took his driver out and gave someone a souvenir downtown.”
The Twins at first gave an estimated distance of 464 feet, using their intricate diagram in the press box. Of course, everyone howled that the estimate was too short. "Maybe they meant 464 yards," one media member joked. After all, if that ball hadn't hit the flag pole, it probably would have bounced through Target Plaza. The Twins came back with a new estimate -- 480 feet, the longest in Target Field's brief history.
We're still waiting for Hit Tracker to give an update with its precision estimates. The Royals had seen this before. On July 3, 1999, Thome hit a home run off then-Royal Don Wengert that traveled an estimated 511 feet. It remains the longest on record at Cleveland's Progressive Field.
Everyone wanted Thome's reaction to this blast, his 21st homer of the season and 585th of his career.
"He threw a change-up, and I was fortunate to square it up; it felt very good," Thome said. "Any time you hit a big home run and it goes that distance, it feels very good."
O'Sullivan can commiserate with scores of other pitchers who've lost this Cat and Mouse game against Thome, including Rick Reed (nine homers allowed vs. Thome), Roger Clemens (eight) and Justin Verlander (seven).
“For anybody else, it was a good pitch," Royals catcher Brayan Pena said. "For Thome, it was in his nitro zone."
Note: It's Francisco Liriano vs. Brian Bannister tonight. Check back later for the starting lineups.