They've been waiting for that slump from Thome for a while. He became known for hammering Tigers pitching during his days with the Cleveland Indians, something that apparently hasn't changed now that he's back in the AL Central after a stint in Philadelphia. He entered the day a .308 hitter against Detroit with 42 home runs and 95 RBIs in 419 at-bats. He had been a .239 hitter at Comerica Park, but with seven home runs in 25 games.
Thome not only added to the total Monday, he punctuated it. He drilled a high fastball from Jeremy Bonderman deep into the right-field seats for his fourth home run of the season in the third inning, tying the game after Craig Monroe's two-run homer in the second inning gave Detroit an early lead.
"I was trying to go in on him," Bonderman said of the pitch. "I flew open a little bit. [The pitch was] belt high."
It was such a strong drive that there was no doubt on contact. The collective gasp from the sellout crowd of 44,179 had hushed by the time the ball landed.
Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton not only watched it, he heard it.
"That ball was kind of up and away and he got it," Shelton said. "When I first saw it, I thought he may have hit it too high and it was going to stay in here. And then I took a look at who hit it and looked where it was going. And then I said, 'Please don't get up in the Pepsi Porch [on the second deck in right field].'"
With the game evened up, Bonderman and White Sox starter Freddy Garcia dueled from there. The young right-hander faced Thome again with runners at the corners and two outs in the fifth and snuck a slider past him for a called third strike to end the inning.
Having survived that threat, Bonderman was back in trouble with his next hitter. He walked Paul Konerko leading off the sixth. He struck out Jermaine Dye and induced a popout from A.J. Pierzynski, but he hung a 1-1 pitch to Crede. The White Sox third baseman hit a liner that seemed headed for the left-center-field fence but kept traveling all the way into the visitors bullpen, an estimated 412-foot shot with barely enough altitude.
"You're playing the world champs," Leyland said, "and that's one of the players that did a good job for them in the playoffs. That's not a day at the beach."
Even before Crede became a playoff hero, he was a Tiger killer. He hit just .252 last season, but at Comerica Park, he batted .320 (8-for-25) with three home runs and eight RBIs. He has 10 home runs in 93 career at-bats here, more than any other visiting player to Comerica Park.
But then, this isn't a typical road park for the White Sox. They won seven of nine games here last year, the last of them clinching the AL Central crown. They won six of eight games both here and in Chicago from the Tigers in September to help them recover from their late-summer dive and hold off Cleveland for the division lead.
The Tigers weren't overly fixated on facing the defending champs to start out their home slate. Nonetheless, for all the credit Leyland's crew received for its 5-1 start at Kansas City and Texas, this is expected to be a better gauge of just how improved the Tigers are.
Bonderman was stellar in that test against Garcia except for two pitches.
"I didn't go out and execute two pitches," Bonderman said. "You have to go out and execute any pitches you make."
Leyland wasn't so quick to blame his young starter. "There's umpteen pitches right down the middle that get popped up or grounded out," he said. "You've got to give them credit for the ones they hit."
The Tigers regrouped from Crede's homer to aggressively gain back a run in the bottom half of the inning. Ivan Rodriguez led off with a single and stole second base. Two outs later, Leyland gave Chris Shelton the green light to swing on a 3-0 count.
"I don't like hitting 3-0," Shelton said, "but I was hoping that he would there."
Garcia challenged Shelton inside. Shelton pulled it down the left-field line for an RBI double, his first hit since Saturday.
Another Tigers killer got the run back with a lesson for a 21-year-old pitcher. Jamie Walker started the eighth inning to retire Jim Thome, then Leyland went to rookie Joel Zumaya to pitch to Konerko.
Zumaya admitted afterwards that his adrenaline was rushing between the home opener and the opponent. In the process, he made the mistake of attacking Konerko with back-to-back 99-mph fastballs. Konerko hit the second one out to left for a solo homer and the game's final margin.
Zumaya said the pitch was supposed be down and away, but he didn't come close. "I threw right down the middle, 98-plus [mph]," Zumaya said. "It got hit probably about 110 out to left field."
Those are the lessons Leyland said to expect for his young fastballer.
"This is another big learning experience for me," Zumaya said. "I knew better, but it happens. I've got to go out and show them they're not only going to get the fastball. They're going to get something else."
The rest of his team learned a lesson, too -- or at least a reminder -- that the White Sox are still the team to beat in the AL Central.