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Thome mans third base in finale -- for one pitch

Thome mans third base in finale -- for one pitch

Thome mans third base in finale -- for one pitch
CLEVELAND -- Tossing and turning, Manny Acta could not sleep on Saturday night. With his mind racing, the Indians' skipper came across an idea.

Jim Thome had not manned the hot corner for nearly 15 years. But if Sunday's contest was Thome's last as a member of the Indians at Progressive Field, what more appropriate way to send out the slugger than an encore performance at third base?

"I just felt that if this is the end -- at least with our franchise -- I thought it was proper that he end where he started -- at third base," Acta said.

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Following a pinch-hit appearance in Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Twins, Thome stayed in the game at third base in the top of the ninth, albeit for just one pitch. Thome last dug his cleats into the dirt near third base on Sept. 29, 1996.

"To get that opportunity to go back out there, it felt really good," Thome said. "Just like old times."

In likely his last at-bat at Progressive Field in an Indians uniform, Thome batted for Shelley Duncan and collected an anticlimactic yet fitting result, as he drew the 1,724th walk of his career, eighth most in Major League history.

"I knew they were up to something fishy," Duncan said, "but I understand the importance of getting him in there in the last home game. I was absolutely happy to be part of it. I had a feeling that if he would've gotten a good pitch to hit, he would've done some damage."

Then, to the surprise of the 22,539 in attendance, Thome trotted out to the infield. Lonnie Chisenhall moved from third to left field, then returned to the infield as Thome retreated to the dugout to a standing ovation after a single pitch. Chisenhall said he has never played outfield before, but the experience was well worth it.

"It was nice to see [Thome] out there," Chisenhall said. "I'm sure he has one or two more plays left in him."

Thome used third baseman Jack Hannahan's mitt for his special appearance. Acta instructed reliever Joe Smith to heave a pitch far enough outside to be out of the batter's reach, but he ended up throwing a strike to Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe.

"I just wanted Trevor to bunt first pitch before [Thome] got taken out, but he didn't," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I just really wanted him to bunt to entertain ourselves."

Duncan playfully questioned Smith's motive on the mound.

"I know Joe Smith tried to give the hitter a pitch to hook Thome a ground ball, but it didn't happen," Duncan said.

Following the inning, Thome stepped out of the dugout for a curtain call. Thome cautioned that this might not be the last fans see of him.

"I still love to play," Thome said. "I would say the percentage is higher of me coming back next year than not."

Thome began his career as a third baseman, playing the position for the first six years of his career. When the Indians acquired Matt Williams in 1997, Thome migrated across the diamond to first base.

In the latter stages of his career, Thome has hardly seen any action on defense. He has not played first base regularly since 2005, when he started 52 games there. He played three games at first in 2006 and one in 2007, his last appearance in the infield before Sunday.

Still, no matter how much defensive rust Thome had accumulated, he was certain of how he would have fared, had a sharp grounder shot his way.

"I would have made the play," Thome said.

Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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