Thome, Blanton star as Phillies beat Twins, 6-1

Posted: June 15, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS - For a few innings after Jim Thome clobbered the 607th home run of his Hall of Fame career, fans in right field searched for the ball. It flew so high into the Minnesota sky Thursday that when it landed, it plopped deep into a flower bed at Target Field and vanished.

Eventually, once a Twins grounds crew member fetched the ball following a Phillies' 6-1 victory, it would belong to Thome. The slugger tries hard to recover all of his home run balls - he had procured his two previous ones in 2012 after fans threw them back onto the field - and they will forever serve as his souvenirs.

"They're tucked away for the kids," Thome said.

The Phillies have cherished the 41-year-old's six-game renaissance, which has proven there is still magic in his bat. He drove in nine runs vs. Minnesota this week, the most he's ever had in any three-game series during his 22-year career.

"It's fun to watch," said Joe Blanton, who needed only that one swing by Thome for support as he tossed his second complete game of 2012.

The Phillies won back-to-back games for the first time in two weeks. They boarded a plane to Canada with good vibes in a season often lacking them.

Blanton made a sizable lead stand, recently a tall task for Phillies starters. They lugged a 5.70 ERA from their last 24 games into Thursday and Blanton was a major culprit.

"It was a very pleasant surprise," Charlie Manuel said.

His lone mistake Thursday was a fat fastball to Trevor Plouffe, who smashed it for a solo home run that tied the game in the second just minutes after Ty Wigginton had pushed the Phillies ahead with a homer.

But only two Twins runners reached second after Plouffe's bomb and Blanton moved at an economical pace for much of the night. He struck out seven in 2 hours, 38 minutes.

It was a refreshing performance for the Phillies and their righthander. Blanton's 9.91 ERA in his previous five starts was the highest in all of baseball. He had allowed at least five earned runs in five straight starts, leaving him one shy of tying the franchise's modern record for futility held by Calvin Maduro.

Manuel noticed Blanton's fastball precision, which helped his secondary pitches.

"It's not one of those where it was a quick fix and everything suddenly got better," Blanton said. "It's been trying a few different things and gradually getting a little more comfortable."

For much of the day, it appeared the Minnesota sky would not permit baseball. The Phillies were grateful when the skies cleared. Thome, for one, isn't about to be robbed of his precious at-bats. Both Manuel and he have effectively eliminated any chance Thome plays first base for the rest of the season.

"We'd take a chance on his back stiffening up again," Manuel said.

Thus, once play in American League ballparks stops Sunday, Thome is reduced to a pinch-hitting role. It was a job to which he did not adjust in the season's first month.

A week of production could help. Thome is hitting .458 (11 for 24) with two doubles, three homers, 13 RBIs, three walks and seven runs scored in six games on this road trip.

His latest blast came off Twins lefty Scott Diamond, who earned the distinction of being the 398th different victim of Thome. Diamond entered the game with a 1.61 ERA but allowed a season-high four runs in six innings.

A fan wearing a Twins Thome jersey and Phillies hat was the most diligent searcher for ball No. 607. He never found it, and even if he did, Thome would have traded something for it.

"There's always going to be people who doubt the age," Thome said. "That's part of it. To know you can work hard and have some success does mean a lot, no doubt."

And one day, the ball will help him remember how he still had it as a 41-year-old hitter.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.

 

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