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Sosa Becomes Fifth Player In 600-Homer Club

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Sammy Sosa bounced out of the batter's box with his trademark hop and thrust his right fist into the air.

Finally, Slammin' Sammy was a member of the 600-homer club _ a delayed induction into an elite group that took considerably longer than most would have thought when he was playing his last game for the Chicago Cubs in 2004.

Playing for the Texas Rangers after a year out of baseball, Sosa connected Wednesday night against his former team to join Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays with 600 homers.

``This one is pretty big because, normally I don't know if I would have come back to baseball having a year off,'' Sosa said. ``Now, have a chance to celebrate No. 600, which is not a bad number, I'm very happy.''

His 600th homer came in the Rangers' 7-3 victory over the Cubs, on a 1-2 pitch in the fifth inning off Jason Marquis, the 364th pitcher the 38-year-old Sosa has homered off in his 18 major league seasons.

``Getting my 600th against the Chicago Cubs, and my first team (was) the Texas Rangers. It's like everything clicked,'' Sosa said.

Sosa played for the Cubs from 1992-2004, winning the '98 NL MVP award and making seven All-Star teams. He hit 545 homers for Chicago that pushed his career total within 26 of the milestone.

But there was his miserable 2005 season in Baltimore. He testified before Congress about possible steroid use in baseball during spring training before hitting .221 with 14 homers in 102 games.

Then came the year out of baseball, spent mostly at home in the Dominican Republic.

Sosa got back in the game by signing a minor league deal and making the roster in spring training with the Rangers, the franchise that originally signed him in 1985 when he was a lanky 16-year-old free agent.

Sosa hit his milestone homer nearly 18 years after hitting his first off Roger Clemens at Fenway Park in Boston on June 21, 1989. His latest was the 12th homer in 62 games this season.

``The guy took a year off from the big leagues and he hasn't missed a beat,'' Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. ``That's saying a lot.''

The homer landed in the Texas bullpen in right-center field. As Sosa rounded the bases, a banner was unfurled in center field congratulating him for his accomplishment, and pictures of all five members of the 600-homer club flashed on the scoreboard.

After being mobbed by his teammates at home plate, Sosa returned from the dugout for a curtain call and blew kisses to the crowd. He acknowledged the Cubs' dugout by tapping his chest with his fist, and Chicago manager Lou Piniella pointed back toward the slugger.

``You like to see professionals do what they do and Sammy's been a professional all these years,'' Piniella said. ``All baseball fans should be happy for Sammy.''

Chants of ``Sam-my! Sam-my!'' prompted a second curtain call from Sosa.

Before those cheers had even subsided, Frank Catalanotto hit another homer, the 75th of his career, to make it 6-1.

The Cubs had never played a regular season game in Texas before the series opener Tuesday, and were the only team Sosa had never faced. He now has homered against every major league team, doing so in a record 45 different stadiums.

``People that know baseball know that I was retired for one year and to put everything together and come back, that's big,'' Sosa said. ``That's why tonight, it was a great night.''

Like Mark McGwire and Bonds, Sosa is suspected of using steroids before they were banned by baseball, and he was caught with a corked bat in front of his home crowd when he played for the Cubs in 2003.

He has never been penalized for a positive steroids test, however, and was not involved in the BALCO scandal that has dogged Bonds, who is only seven homers shy of matching Aaron's record mark of 755.

Sosa is the only player with three 60-homer seasons. He hit .308 with a career-high 66 homers and 158 RBIs in his 1998 MVP season for the Cubs _ and was part of that memorable home run chase with McGwire, the first major leaguer to hit 70 homers.

When Sosa returned this season, he insisted he was coming back for more than the 12 homers he needed to reach 600.

``Definitely,'' Sosa reiterated after the game. ``I'm showing the whole world I still have a few years left in the tank. I'm hungry every day. I'm here because I want to compete. Everything depends on how I feel a few more years. I feel great. Nothing can stop me right now.''
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