Thome powers Hamels, Phillies past Twins 9-8
Former Twin hits homer against old team
MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Thome wasn’t ready to worry about the at-bats he’ll lose next week.
He was too busy enjoying his latest tape-measure home run and a much-needed win.
Thome drove in four runs against his former team, including a long homer to pad Philadelphia’s lead, and the Phillies hung on for a 9-8 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night.
Thome hit a two-run single in the first inning against Twins starter P.J. Walters (2-2), who left with no outs and shoulder pain. Then he took Anthony Swarzak deep for a two-run shot in the fourth, the 606th of his career. The distances are unscientific, estimated on the spot by Twins staff in the press box, but Thome has the four longest home runs in Target Field’s three-season history. This one took third place, measured at 466 feet to the standing room above the batter’s eye.
Twins fans enjoyed the soft-spoken, hard-hitting slugger so much in his two seasons here that they stood, cheered and clapped for the 41-year-old as he jogged around the bases.
“Any time you clear the center field backdrop, it means a lot,” Thome said, smiling. “It’s special.”
Said Phillies starter Cole Hamels: “I don’t even think I could do that from second base.”
Added Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: “That’s the deep water, and only a few boys can go in the deep water.”
John Mayberry also had four RBIs, including a three-run home run in the first inning to give Hamels (9-3) a six-run lead he barely held. Jonathan Papelbon got the last four outs for his 17th save in as many attempts.
Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz both had three hits and scored two runs, helping the Phillies — who have been in last place since May 5 — win for only the second time in their last 11 games.
Thome missed more than a month because of a lower back strain, but he’s hitting .435 in 23 at-bats with six runs, 10 RBIs and both of his homers this year since coming off the disabled list. Five of the seven games have been in American League ballparks, allowing him to be the designated hitter.
Thome has talked often of the difficult adjustment to becoming a full-time pinch-hitter, finding a routine that works with his limited role, but when he’s the DH — as he was most of the time with the Twins in 2010 and 2011 — he sure does fine.
“I’m getting a chance to play every day. It’s been a lot of fun,” Thome said.
But next week, the Phillies will face a dilemma. Thome has played first base four times this season, but it’s hard on his long-problematic back.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get him in there,” manager Charlie Manuel said, after acknowledging before the game the possibility of putting him in the field.
The Phillies hope to find a way he can see full-speed batting practice early while he’s not participating in games, but Thome wasn’t touching that topic yet.
“I try not to look too much ahead. Baseball’s that way. You focus on the day and the moment. We’ll deal with that when that happens,” he said.
Denard Span had three hits, Joe Mauer drove in two runs and Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe both homered for the Twins, who nearly erased deficits of 6-0 and 9-3. Papelbon promptly ended their rally by striking out Mauer in a perfect ninth.
Manuel and Thome were quick to credit Minnesota’s streaking offense for the comeback, but a third straight start by Hamels couldn’t be ignored. After going 5-0 in May, Hamels has fallen into his usual June swoon. It’s the worst month of his career; he’s 11-16 all time.
“I’m not concerned,” he said. “I’m definitely frustrated.”
Hamels was charged with a season-high six earned runs, giving up eight hits and two walks while striking out six and failing to retire a batter in the four-run seventh inning.
“I feel like it comes and goes. I definitely have innings where things are working really well and I’m hitting my spots, and all of a sudden an inning comes and I can’t hit a spot to save a life,” Hamels said.