The first game of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Interleague series against the Tampa Bay Rays was rained out on Friday, which set up a day-night doubleheader on Sunday. But, a meaningful moment was created before that modern twin bill was played.
Jim Thome didn’t start Saturday’s late afternoon game. But, he led off the bottom of the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter against Ray’s lefty reliever Jake McGee and worked the count to 3-2. One of the few legitimate power-hitters of this era then hit a walk-off home run deep into the early summer that gave his team a 7-6 victory.
As the ball surged toward the left field stands, the over-capacity Philadelphia crowd was collectively transported through time.
Big Jim’s bast on June 23, 2012 came against the team that the Phillies defeated in the 2008 World Series. His thirteenth career walk-off home run also made him Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in that quirky category.
The majority of fans remembered how his initial free agent acquisition (December 6, 2002) became the defining transaction that put the Phillies back on the path to playoff contention. Few had forgotten any of the Illinois’ native’s 96 home runs during his 2+ years in red pinstripes that followed.
The emergence of Ryan Howard enabled newly hired general manager Pat Gillick to trade Thome to the Chicago White Sox on November 25, 2005 for a package that included Aaron Rowand, Daniel Haigwood and a player to be named later (Gio Gonzalez). And with that deal, the next step toward a second World Series championship was taken.
Interleague play allowed Thome to get regular work as a designated hitter last June. That experience led to cutaway shots of Charlie Manuel and his enduring protege standing side-by-side in the dugout talking baseball, just as they originally did during their Cleveland Indians’ days.
The home run Thome hit against the Rays was his fifth of the season, number 101 on his Phillies’ resume and the final one that would be recorded on Philadelphia’s digital scorecard.
General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. surprisingly secured Thome during the early part of the 2011 offseason. His stated intention to play the veteran occasionally at first base during Howard’s recovery from Achilles’ surgery was questioned by some, including the man in question. But, Thome welcomed the challenge and managed to wear his old glove for four games at that infield location.
He likely obtained the veteran knowing that the Interleague schedule would help to build the slugger’s potential trade value. With the Phillies’ realistic playoff hopes in question and Howard’s return soon set to occur, Amaro dealt Thome to the Baltimore Orioles on June 30 for two minor league players.
Many fake heroes rose to power during the past few decades. And then there was a baseball man, who by all accounts naturally hit more than 600 baseballs over a variety of fences. That man will enter the Hall of Fame with humility because everyone who ever saw him play knows that he was a real ball player.