MINNEAPOLIS -- Harmon Killebrew might not have been at Target Field on Saturday afternoon to witness the historic moment. But the legendary Twins slugger and Hall of Famer certainly made it a poignant one for Jim Thome, who hit career home runs Nos. 573 and 574 in his first two at-bats against the Rays to pass Killebrew for 10th place on the all-time home run list. A previously taped message from Killebrew played on the massive scoreboard at Target Field shortly after Thome finished trotting around the bases for his 574th career homer. In the video, Killebrew congratulated Thome on his accomplishment and said that he only wished he had been there to see it. As he stood by his locker after the contest, Thome still seemed emotionally affected by the gesture.
"That is something that will go down as one of the better moments in my career," Thome said. "I was extremely touched and taken back. Any time a baseball game stops and somebody like that speaks, it's very humbling. It's an honor to have a man like that do something like that. It was really, really cool." Thome certainly delivered a memorable afternoon for Twins fans, belting the two home runs and almost a third on a ball that barely missed going out to right field in the ninth of Minnesota's 8-6 loss to the Rays, as he reached another historic plateau in what surely will be a Hall of Fame career. "I'm happy for him. Jim is a great guy, and if anyone passed me, I'm glad it was him," Killebrew said when reached by phone in Arizona shortly after Thome's second home run. "I hope he hits a bunch more over the rest of the year for the Minnesota Twins." Thome moved into a tie for 10th place with Killebrew on his first home run of the day, a solo shot off Rays starter Wade Davis with two outs in the second inning. On a 1-0 fastball, Thome hit a low-line shot that snuck just inside the left-field foul pole and over the wall for his ninth home run of the season to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. After a message flashed on the Target Field scoreboard announcing Thome's accomplishment of tying the legendary Twins slugger, a total of 40,852 fans -- the largest crowd in the new ballpark's brief history -- stood on their feet cheering. It drew Thome out for a curtain call as he headed up the dugout steps, doffing his batting helmet for the fans. And it didn't take long for Thome to hit his next home run. On his very next swing -- during his at-bat in the fourth inning -- Thome blasted a first-pitch fastball from Davis an estimated 424 feet into the bullpens in left-center field that gave the Twins a 4-1 lead and earned Thome his second curtain call of the day. As he walked back into the dugout after that home run, Thome was greeted by hugs from many of his teammates before getting a chance to watch Killebrew's video. The emotions of the day got to Thome a little bit, admitting he had to go back to the clubhouse and compose himself. "It kind of took me off guard," Thome said. "I had to come up here and get back into game mode." While Thome has passed other Hall of Famers along his way up the home run ladder, tying Killebrew was a little more special due to the relationship that they developed during Spring Training this year. Thome and Killebrew sat side by side on the bench inside the home dugout at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla., one afternoon this spring. Thome's hand was on Killebrew's back as the two chatted for a brief time and exchanged laughs. And although the two didn't meet until this year, there has always been a mutual respect level between the two. Thome said that meeting Killebrew has only strengthened the respect he has for the Hall of Famer. "To meet Harmon and to get the opportunity to be with him in Spring Training, I mean, he's a legend," Thome said. "He's a legendary person, too. That makes it even better." Killebrew has long applauded Thome for doing things "the right way," in reference to the fact that Thome has never been linked to steroids or other performance-enhancing substances which have marred the accomplishments of other long ball hitters from Thome's era. "He's someone who is a credit to the game and to himself and his teammates and the teams that he's played for," Killebrew said on Saturday. "You're happy for him. Like everybody else, I'm delighted that he was able to do it." Thome revels in the game's history and he's collected many of the home run balls that he's launched to tie baseball's historic figures. So it was no surprise that the two home run balls sat in Thome's locker after the contest. He now sits nine home runs shy of Mark McGwire's 583, but Thome said he hasn't looked ahead on the list, choosing to focus on each step at a time. And for Saturday, that was matching and then passing Killebrew. The special day was tinged with a little somber note in that the Twins went on to lose the contest to the Rays after leading, 4-1, following Thome's second homer. But there was no question that this is a day neither the Twins nor Thome will soon forget. "A great day, a fun day to watch him swing," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "It was a special day for Jim Thome."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.