Until Thursday, Thome, Manuel say friendship takes back seat to winning

Posted: June 12, 2007

Jim Thome and Charlie Manuel have always been on the same side, with the Indians and then with the Phillies.

Until last night, that is.

It's no secret how close the two are. The White Sox' designated hitter credits the Phillies manager with helping him develop the hitting form that has him closing in on 500 home runs. They talk frequently.

For 3 days in June, though, while the White Sox are in town for an interleague series, none of that matters. For the first time, they'll be competing directly against each other.

So, Jim, what would it be like to beat Charlie?

Grin. "It'll be nice," he said. "He's like a dad to me. And sometimes you have to try to beat your dad."

So, Charlie, what do you think when you see Jim walking to the plate?

Grin. "When he plays us, I want to get him out. I put aside our relationship and try to win the game."

Thome, who signed a 6-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies before the 2003 season, didn't start last night because the designated hitter isn't used for games played in National League parks. He was on deck when Luis Terrero struck out to end the Phillies' 3-0 win over the White Sox. Thome is expected to be at first base tomorrow, giving Paul Konerko a day off.

That was only one of the story lines that Thome's first appearance in Philadelphia in nearly 2 years produced. There is also his relationship with Ryan Howard, whose path to the big leagues appeared blocked until back and elbow problems limited Thome's playing time in 2005.

Howard stepped in, slugged his way to the NL Rookie of the Year Award and, at the end of the season, Thome was traded to the White Sox.

Thome said he didn't know if he'd still be playing for the Phillies if he hadn't been injured. "I don't know how it would have unfolded," he said.

Howard had just completed a season at Class A Lakewood during which he hit 19 home runs in 135 games when Thome was signed.

"You can sit there and be disheartened or you can get focused and just play and see what happens," Howard said. "We're always told that we're playing for 29 other teams, too. My feeling was to just go out and play and let everything else work itself out.

"I just wanted a chance to play somewhere. It didn't matter where."

Howard, of course, was the NL Most Valuable Player last year. Thome bounced back to hit 42 homers in Chicago, most ever by a White Sox lefthanded hitter. And he's now playing close to his boyhood home in Peoria, Ill.

"Both situations worked out for the best," Howard said. "I wish him nothing but the best. There was no pressure to fill his shoes. I can't fill his shoes. There's only one Jim Thome."

Some fans will recall that the Phillies flirted with the idea of converting Howard to the outfield and fantasized about a lineup with both Howard and Thome in it.

Manuel recalled the brief audition in spring training. "Speaking just for myself, I saw Ryan in the outfield and came to the conclusion that we had two first basemen," he said, drawing a hearty laugh.

"Believe me, if we could have found another position for either one of them, we'd probably still have them both."

Thome says he follows Howard and roots for him. Howard, likewise, said he enjoys watching Thome hit bombs on the nightly highlights shows although, of course, not for the next couple nights.

"We hope to keep him from hitting any here," he added.

Manuel and Thome certainly understand. *

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