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Sosa Pursuit Of 600 Homers One Of Few Rangers Highlights

Sammy Sosa insisted when he returned after a year out of baseball that he was coming back for more than the 12 home runs he needed to reach 600.

Now that Sosa is two shy of becoming only the fifth player to reach that milestone, the 38-year-old slugger still doesn't want to dwell on it.

``It would mean a lot to me or anybody. But this isn't the moment to talk about it,'' Sosa said. ``Right now, I'm focused on my job, coming to the ballpark prepared every day. I could care less what people think. ... I'm here for the team, not playing for myself.''

But with the way the Texas Rangers are playing, the comeback by Slammin' Sammy has been one of their few highlights.

``He's been a great teammate. We're pulling for him,'' shortstop Michael Young said. ``He works hard, he's in the weight room every day, and he's great with the guys.''

Texas (18-29), with the worst record in the American League, had a day off Thursday before a weekend series at home against the Boston Red Sox.

Sosa had 10 homers and 36 RBIs _ both among the AL's top 10 _ through 41 games after signing a minor league deal and making the roster in spring training with the franchise that gave him his start in 1989.

``Everything I'm seeing out of him, I thought I would see,'' manager Ron Washington said. ``Anything he does, it doesn't surprise me because I know the experience he brings. ... I'm quite sure a lot of people were skeptical about him for many reasons. But he showed us he was serious about coming back.''

Such skepticism grew out of the questions about steroids that have long dogged Sosa, the only player with three 60-homer seasons. Like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, Sosa is suspected by some of having used steroids before they were banned by baseball in late 2002.

There was also his yearlong hiatus from the game. Sosa went home to the Dominican Republic after hitting .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 102 games in 2005, his only season with Baltimore.

That year, he was among several players who testified before a congressional committee looking into steroid use in professional baseball.

Since hitting .328 with 64 homers, 160 RBIs and 146 runs scored in 2001, Sosa's numbers in each of those categories had gone down each year. The former NL MVP and seven-time All-Star led the NL with 49 homers in 2002, but that total dropped to 40 and 35 before bottoming out in Baltimore.

But so far with the Rangers, Sosa has revived his home run hop and been more consistent along the way. He is hitting .266 with 10 doubles.

``I'm not a satisfied person, I'll tell you that,'' he said. ``My attitude is to come to the ballpark every day. The longer I have that, I won't worry about numbers. The numbers are going to be there. I'm trying to be mentally strong and take care of business.''

Sosa got a one-year deal from the Rangers for a base salary of about $600,000 with a chance to earn about $2 million more in performance bonuses.

Washington has used Sosa primarily as the designated hitter, where Sosa has made 29 of his 39 starts. His other starts were in right field.

In the Rangers' 7-1 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, Sosa hit career homer No. 598 _ a more than 400-foot blast to center field.

``He's obviously staying on the ball. He's one of those guys who every time he comes up, it's lightning. He's a fun baseball player to watch,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``I'm glad we're getting out of here now. We didn't want to see No. 600.''

The Red Sox are next and Sosa, who has hit homers off 362 different pitchers, gets to face Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka (6-2) for the first time Friday night. But it won't be their first meeting.

``Of course I know him, and though he's probably forgotten, I've met him in the past,'' Matsuzaka said through a translator. ``There are a lot of great hitters in their lineup, including Michael Young and Mark Teixeira, so I won't be focusing on Sammy.''

Despite his impressive comeback, Sosa's pursuit of 600 homers has been overshadowed by the bad play of the Rangers and Bonds' chase to replace Hank Aaron (755) atop the career home run list.

Bonds goes into San Francisco's weekend series at home against Colorado with 745 homers. Babe Ruth is third on the list with 714, followed by Willie Mays with 660.

Sosa is thinking far beyond 600.

``I don't know how long it would take to reach 700,'' Sosa said. ``The longer I play, the better my opportunity. I want to keep playing. The year off made me hungrier. I feel great.''
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