DENVER -- Sammy Sosa has long been the kind of player who transcends loyalties.
Opposing fans cheer for him, as they did at Coors Field on Saturday night after the Chicago Cubs slugger hit his third straight three-run homer.
The ovation became so loud that Sosa was summoned out of the dugout for a curtain call, tipping his cap to the 45,474 in attendance.
"It's a good feeling," Sosa said. "I know the fans are behind me, and that keeps me going every day. I have to give back to them."
Sosa's loyalty to the Cubs, however, has become increasingly strained.
Frustrated with the team's losing ways, Sosa recently said he will seriously consider exercising his right to become a free agent after 2003 and leave Chicago for a winning franchise.
"I don't feel uncomfortable with the team, I don't feel uncomfortable with the players," he said. "But I don't feel good losing every time. They've got to find a way.
"If you've got a house and your house is dirty, what do you do to fix that? Clean it up, right? That's how I feel, and they have to respect that."
Sosa has also vowed not to fly on the team's charter plane again, which he says is unsafe. He and his teammates have had two emergency landings in the last two months, and in April the Cubs were forced to stay overnight in Montreal because of mechanical problems with the Northwest Airlines plane.
Saying that to get back on that plane is "scary," Sosa chartered his own 10-seat private plane from San Francisco to Denver on Thursday night, bringing five teammates with him. He planned to make his own travel arrangements again to get from Denver to Chicago on Sunday night.
The disruptions haven't affected Sosa's play.
He tied a franchise record Saturday night with nine RBIs - all in the first five innings - then removed himself from the game in the sixth as his Cubs routed the Colorado Rockies 15-1.
Sosa exited before getting a chance to match the big league record of four homers in a game, accomplished by Seattle's Mike Cameron and Los Angeles' Shawn Green already this year.
"When you're up 15-1 and you have a day game the next day and you had a game like I had, you need to know when you've had enough," Sosa said. "I went 3-for-4 and had nine RBIs, and that was good enough for me.
"I have to give respect to the other team. I don't need to go out and get more. I had a pretty good day. So I decided to shut it down."
Sosa connected in successive at-bats in the third, fourth and fifth innings. He took over the major league lead with 38 homers and matched Johnny Mize's record of six career three-homer games.
The nine RBIs were a career high for Sosa and tied the club mark set by Heinie Zimmerman in 1911. Sosa also became the fifth player with home runs in three straight innings.
"It was one of those games where you get a couple of mistakes and you hit them out," Sosa said.
Twice last season, Sosa left games early after hitting his third home run. In a 14-5 loss to Colorado, he said he appreciated the break from the hot and humid conditions. The other time, then-Cubs manager Don Baylor said he didn't want to embarrass an opponent during a 16-3 rout of Milwaukee.
Rockies starter Shawn Chacon, however, was embarrassed - and angry - after giving up the first two homers to Sosa. The third came off reliever Mark Corey.
Chacon was upset at the curtain call.
"I was surprised he got a curtain call on our home field," the right-hander said. "That's brutal, man. It's like you're pitching on the road."
But Chacon added that he didn't expect Sosa to make an early exit.
"I was surprised they took him out," the pitcher said.
Sosa's first homer was estimated at 490 feet, the third-longest in Coors Field history, trailing only a 496-foot shot by Mike Piazza and a 493-footer by Larry Walker - both in 1997.
"I came in with confidence I could get Sosa out," Chacon said. "I've gotten him out before.
"On his first homer, he fought off a couple of pitches and then he's looking for a fastball out over the plate. That's his strength when he gets his arms extended. On his second homer, I put a fastball inside on the black, and you could see how strong he is."
Sosa entered Sunday's game 19th on the career list with 488 home runs, five behind Lou Gehrig.
Cubs manager Bruce Kimm called Sosa "one of the elite, one of the few guys capable of doing that. He is an awesome talent. There is a reason why he is close to the 500-homer plateau now."