Sosa's 599th carries Rangers to victory
Fifth-inning grand slam proves to be decisive blow
CINCINNATI -- Sammy Sosa's 599th career home run took a while to get here, but it was a big one once it arrived.No. 599 was also No. 9, as in career grand slams, and that was a huge blast for the Rangers, as they were able to overcome the Reds and rally for a 7-6 victory on Friday night at Great American Ball Park. Sosa's grand slam finished off a five-run fifth inning that gave the Rangers a 7-4 lead and left him one short of becoming the fifth player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs in his career. "That was the big thing, we won, no question," Sosa said. "We had some opportunities to score runs, we played good defense and the relief pitching was awesome. Everybody contributed -- me, too. It was a great game." The home run, coming off Reds starter Matt Belisle, was Sosa's first since May 22, when he went deep off Minnesota left-hander Johan Santana. That was 17 games and 68 at-bats between home runs. "Every player goes through struggles," Sosa said. "Nobody is perfect, and I've had to make a lot of adjustments. The thing I like is that even though I've hit a little bump, I'm still getting big hits and a lot of RBIs. That calms me down. I know another big one is still to come." Sosa also hit a run-scoring single to go with the grand slam, giving him a season-high five RBIs on the night and a club-leading 51 for the year, with still more than half the season to go. But the one everybody is waiting for is No. 600, which would put him in the same company as Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. "Everybody is thinking about 600, but I'm not thinking about that," Sosa said. "Don't get me wrong. I want to get it over with, I want to get it done. But I'm not going to stop there. It's a big number that everybody wants, but my intention is not to stop there." Sosa's slam made a winner out of Vicente Padilla, who earned his third victory of the season despite allowing six runs over five innings. But the real pitching hero of the night was left-hander C.J. Wilson. The Rangers were up, 7-6, when Wilson entered the game with one out and two on in the bottom of the sixth, and he struck out Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn to end the threat.
"Going into the series, I figured there was a chance for me to face Griffey and Dunn, two big-time power hitters," Wilson said. "For my generation, Griffey was the player everybody grew up watching. I had his posters in my room and the action figures, and I always wanted to play with him. I guess the next best thing is to strike him out."Wilson was the second of five relievers deftly used by manager Ron Washington to put together four scoreless innings and save it for Padilla. Eric Gagne worked the ninth for his seventh save, and Padilla is now 3-8 with a 6.57 ERA on the season. "The good thing is, we won, that's what matters most," Padilla said. "It's better for me, helps me keep my head up. When we were down 4-2, I thought, 'Here we go again.' But I feel my confidence coming back." Padilla also helped the Rangers offensively, getting the five-run fifth going against Belisle with the Rangers trailing, 4-2. Ramon Vazquez started the rally with a one-out single, then Padilla was asked to bunt. He did just that, and did it well, laying a bunt down the third-base line that made Cincinnati catcher David Ross trip over third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Instead of a sacrifice bunt, Padilla was given his first hit in two years. Vazquez was thrown out by Reds center fielder Josh Hamilton trying to score on Kenny Lofton's single, but Frank Catalanotto doubled to left to score Padilla (who almost stumbled over third base), and Michael Young drew a walk to load the bases. Belisle got strike one on Sosa, then tried to throw a cut fastball toward the outside corner. "We got to the situation with Sosa, a situation I love to pitch in," Belisle said. "I felt great with what I wanted to do and confident. It was just too fat of a pitch ... an unacceptable pitch in that situation." Sosa jumped on thre pitch and drove it to deep to right-center for his first grand slam since Sept. 15, 2004, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sosa now has 54 home runs off Reds pitching, his most against any opponent. He also has 27 home runs in Cincinnati, his most in any city outside Chicago. He has 11 at Great American to go with the 16 he hit in long-gone Riverfront Stadium. "This city is my lucky charm," he said. "Every time I come to Cincinnati, I always play well here. Hopefully, that will continue tomorrow." He said that standing in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse with a crowd of reporters standing around. When the interview session ended, Sosa smiled. "See you tomorrow," he said slyly. "Same time."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.