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Closing in on a milestone, Thome still looking for a championship

White Sox first baseman is on pace to hit his 500th home run this season.

Thome

TUCSON — Jim Thome had an ace bandage wrapped around his midsection as he sat by his locker, but no, he’s not injured.

His back’s fine. So are his wrist and hamstring.

One year after re-establishing himself as a premier power hitter, Thome has a chance to reach 500 career home runs. And, he hopes, win a World Series.

“I certainly feel very, very strongly about winning,” he said Sunday. “Winning a championship should be in everybody’s plan. I certainly would like to accomplish that.”

Thome put up some impressive numbers last season, his first with the White Sox — a .288 batting average, 42 home runs and 109 RBIs after being limited to 59 games because of injuries with Philadelphia the previous season. He has 472 homers, meaning he could reach a milestone this season.

But the most important number is this: 90.

That’s how many games the White Sox won last season after capturing the championship in 2005. Not bad. But not good enough for a team that had visions of repeating — or at least getting back to the playoffs.

The champagne had barely run out when the White Sox added Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation and Thome’s booming bat to the middle of the lineup. But instead of another celebration, there was a third-place finish in the AL Central.

Although he won two pennants with the Cleveland Indians, Thome’s chase for a championship enters its 17th season.

“It’s not over yet,” said Thome, who turns 37 in August.

He sees another good opportunity, especially if Scott Podsednik provides the spark at the top of the order that he provided in 2005. It could also come from veteran outfielder Darin Erstad, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who signed with the White Sox last month.

While the top and bottom of the order struggled last year, the middle was solid.

Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede set career highs with 44 and 30 homers, and maybe that was no coincidence, with Thome in the lineup.

“He’s always on base,” said Paul Konerko, who hit 35 homers. “You get more chances to drive people in.”

The White Sox led the majors with 236 home runs, were third in runs with 868 and tied for fourth with a .280 batting average. Thome saw some similarities to the teams he played on in Cleveland, where he was surrounded by sluggers like Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez.

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