Thome's huge blast the difference in nail-biter

Thome's huge blast the difference in nail-biter

Thome's huge blast the difference in nail-biter
MINNEAPOLIS - Jim Thome savored the moment Wednesday at Target Field.

He was thinking short term and long term as he did.

The Phillies won a game, which was great for the short term. They desperately needed one. Sure, it was much closer than it needed to be, as the Phillies' pitching staff nearly blew a six-run lead in the sixth inning, but they still beat the Minnesota Twins, 9-8. Thome scored the winning run in the fourth inning when he launched a 2-1 changeup from Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak over the batter's eye in center field and onto the main concourse, right where fans purchase corn dogs and walleyes on a stick, for a two-run home run estimated to have gone about 460 feet. That was great, because Thome doesn't know how many more bombs like that he has in him.

"You never know when those moments are going to keep coming, and you cherish them," said Thome, who has four more games as the team's designated hitter before he is regulated to full-time pinch-hitting duties. "The position I've been in, it means a lot."

Thome chuckled when a reporter asked rhetorically if he knew it was gone the moment he hit it. He could laugh because the Phillies won.

This has been a terrible month for the Phillies. They were 28-25 and 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals on June 1, but had lost nine of their last 10 to fall to 29-34 and 9 1/2 games out of first place before Wednesday's victory.

They needed this, regardless of how ugly it got.

And it got ugly.

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels allowed eight hits, seven runs (six earned), two walks, two home runs and struck out six in six innings. The Phillies spotted him a 6-0 lead in the first and built a 9-3 lead in the fourth when Thome launched his moon shot.

"As Reggie Jackson said, that's the deep water," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Only a few boys can go in the deep water, and he went in the deep water."

 But Hamels allowed a solo homer to Josh Willingham in the sixth to make it 9-4, and allowed a double, a walk and another double to start the seventh, prompting manager Charlie Manuel to pull him for left-hander Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo allowed back-to-back singles and threw a wild pitch leading to four runs to make it a one-run game.

Hamels had blown three-run leads in each of his last two starts, and almost blew a six-run lead Wednesday. He has a 6.08 ERA in his last four starts.

Hamels acknowledged it would be difficult to enjoy the win knowing he almost blew another game.

"Maybe that's being selfish, but it's hard to when you're still in last place and you don't put good starts together," he said. "That's quite a few in a row. They're not good moments. ... It's not the right time to have poor starts when the team isn't doing that well. We can't afford that."

Phillies starters have a 5.97 ERA in 15 games since Roy Halladay went on the disabled list May 28. They have a 5.76 ERA in their last 24 games.

"I'm definitely frustrated," Hamels said. "I made good pitches. Unfortunately, when I'm making one good pitch out of five, that's not good. You have to go out there and repeat it and repeat it. It's not necessarily going that way. One inning, it's great. The next inning, it's poor and next inning I'm back to normal. Can't really pinpoint anything. I have to keep plugging away and hopefully things will work themselves out."

Chad Qualls struck out the three batters he faced in the eighth, but the final batter reached on a wild pitch, prompting Manuel to summon Jonathan Papelbon for a four-out save.

Papelbon is 17-for-17 in save opportunities.

Manuel said they never discussed having Papelbon try for a two-inning save, something he had done just four times in his career, and just twice since 2006.

"In two innings, sometimes, he could throw 35-40 pitches," Manuel said. "If he does that, do you know how many days we lose him for? At least two, and probably three. And that's why you don't use him for two innings. On the road, that's how you use your closer. You don't use your closer in a tie game on the road."

Papelbon threw a clean ninth inning to make Thome's home run stand up. Thome is hitting .476 (10-for-21) with two doubles, two home runs, 10 RBIs, two walks, four runs scored and a 1.399 OPS in his first five games as the team's designated hitter.

But what becomes of Thome when the Interleague schedule ends Sunday in Toronto? He is unable to play in the field because of a bad back, which means he will have no opportunities to keep his bat sharp.

"I think we're focusing on the right now," Thome said. "I haven't done it in a while. I think sooner or later I'll sit down with Charlie and see where we're at.  I think I've been pretty honest and open with that. We'll see."

Thome doesn't know what the future holds. The Phillies don't know if their pitching staff will straighten up.  So Wednesday night they just tried to savor a rare victory, and Thome's unbelievable moon shot.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.