Second Cub joins club
Sosa hits 500th home run, joining Banks and 16 othersPosted: Friday April 04, 2003 9:39 PM
Updated: Sunday April 20, 2003 5:40 PM
After getting hit by a pitch, striking out and flying out, Sosa lined a 1-2 pitch from reliever Scott Sullivan into the seats in right field, touching off a standing ovation as he rounded the bases.
He raised his arms in celebration and gave his trademark home run hop as soon as the ball left the bat and headed for history. He then dropped his head, circled the bases and raised both index fingers as he touched home.
His mother, wife, brother and four close family friends accompanied him from New York, where he barely missed hitting No. 500 against the Mets.
After pregame batting practice, Sosa said it hadn't been difficult waiting all winter and the first three games of the season stuck on 499.
"I'm the type of person that knows how to deal with myself," he said. "It's one homer. It's just a matter of time, a matter of one pitch."
After once again failing to hit one off starter Danny Graves, he got that pitch from Sullivan, a sidearm thrower who now has served up four of Sosa's 500.
Sosa is a dozen homers short of former Cub Ernie Banks, who finished tied with Eddie Matthews at 14th on the list. Mel Ott had 511, and Eddie Murray is next ahead of Sosa with 504.
The 34-year-old outfielder reached the mark with one of the greatest home run surges in history. He raced Mark McGwire to the single-season home run record in 1998, finishing second with 66 while Big Mac hit 70.
Sosa kept on going, hitting 63 homers the next year and 64 in 2001. He has 293 homers in the last six years, putting him among the game's elite sluggers.
The sudden and sustained burst made Sosa only the fifth player to reach 500 homers before his 35th birthday. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays also were 34, and Jimmie Foxx was 32 years old.
Like Aaron, Sosa also hit one of his milestone homers in Cincinnati, the home of baseball's first professional team.
Aaron hit the first homer at Riverfront Stadium when it opened on June 30, 1970. He hit the most historic homer in the stadium's history, tying Ruth at No. 714 in the season opener on April 4, 1974 by hitting a 3-1 pitch from Jack Billingham over the left field wall.
Exactly 29 years later, Sosa hit the first historic homer at Great American Ball Park, which has developed a reputation as a hitter's park in its first week. The Pittsburgh Pirates hit eight homers while sweeping the opening three-game series, and Sosa found the field's cozy walls an inviting target in batting practice.
His second swing sent one into the seats in right field. He later hit one over the batter's eye party room in center field, then slammed one off a catwalk over the Reds' bullpen in left-center.
Before the game, he spent a few minutes with Griffey, who has homered once in the new ballpark. Sosa didn't try to get any tips on how the ballpark played -- he preferred to learn firsthand.
"Once you've taken batting practice in a ballpark, that's enough," Sosa said. "You can take it from there."
That's what he did.
It wasn't the first time that Sosa had put his stamp on the new place. When the Reds were still playing at adjacent Cinergy Field in 2001, Sosa became one of the first to hit a homer out of Cinergy and into the construction site of Great American.
His 438-foot homer on June 29, 2001, landed in piles of dirt and metal bars and drew aahs from the crowd. His 500th homer brought one of the loudest cheers in the park's brief history.
Given the way the ball carries at Great American, the only question was whether the Reds would give him much of a chance to swing for the seats.
Reds manager Bob Boone has been careful about pitching to Barry Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, figuring it best to let someone else try to beat his pitching staff. The Reds lost their first three games in their new ballpark, and didn't want Sosa upstaging them.
"Maybe that will be our motivation -- to not let him get it here," Boone said, before the game. "He's going to get it sometime, but you'd always like to avoid it."
Graves handled him well again -- no surprise. Sosa is 6-for-24 career against the closer-turned-starter, and has never homered off of him.
Sullivan got him to swing weakly to fall behind 1-2 in the seventh inning, then left a pitch over the plate that Sosa sent the opposite way, cutting Cincinnati's lead to 8-7.
Sosa now has homered in 38 ballparks, off 303 pitchers.