David Murphy: Thome's monster homer a measure of success, for one night

Posted: June 15, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — The people who measure these sorts of things said that the ball traveled 466 feet, but those people did not consult Shane Victorino before making their proclamation, a fact that was evident in the look of derision that spread across the centerfielder's face when informed of the settled-upon distance.

"No way that was 466," he said.

Whatever the official distance of Jim Thome's majestic home run over the tall, black batters' eye in dead center at Target Field — longer than 466, according to Victorino, but not as long as Ryan Howard's blast over the batters' eye in Miami one year — the important thing was the conversation itself. For one rare night, you could smile without guilt and speak at a normal volume and hold a gratuitous debate about whether a home run traveled really far or really, really, really far.

These are the nights that the Phillies used to enjoy regularly, and their fans along with them. And they clearly enjoyed Wednesday night's 9-8 victory over the Twins, which brought a momentary reprieve from a stretch in which they had lost nine of 10 games to fall five games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East.

An objective observer could not ignore the various indicators suggesting that what the Phillies were experiencing was less a season-turning victory and more an inevitability of chance. They scored six runs in the first inning, but four of them were charged to a Twins pitcher who left the game without recording an out while complaining of stiffness in his shoulder. They would manage to tack on just three more runs, two of them coming on Thome's blast in the fourth, none of them coming in the final five innings of play. For old time's sake, the offense loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth and then failed to score a run.

And the bullpen? Well, it was the bullpen, only this time it was Antonio Bastardo sending off warning sirens in your head, every one of his off-speed pitches seemingly buried in the dirt in front of home plate. Before the game, Charlie Manuel admitted that the young lefty has been unable to bounce back from heavy use like he did last season, when he exploded onto the scene as one of the most dominant setup men in the National League. Pitching coach Rich Dubee does not feel confident using Bastardo for much more than an inning, and pitching him in three straight games is almost out of the question. And this is the reliever who is by far the best option — bordering on the only option — to prevent a game from unraveling the way it has so many times this season, and the way it almost did last night. Bastardo allowed both of the runners he inherited to score, then allowed one of his own before recording the final out of the seventh. By that point, the Phillies lead had gone from 6-0 to 6-1 to 7-1 to 7-3 to 9-3 to 9-4 to 9-8.

"Nobody said it's going to be easy," Manuel said.

But at this point, the manager will take the wins however his players offer them up, particularly when the key hit ends up being a gargantuan two-run blast by his close friend and kindred spirit and fellow former Minnesota Twin. Thome only spent two seasons here, but he impacted more than baseballs, as was evidenced by the standing ovation that the home crowd offered the visiting slugger as he jogged around the bases in the wake of his home run. That might make Thome the first player in major league history to get a standing ovation in Philadelphia after homering as a Twin and a standing ovation in Minneapolis after homering as a Phillie.

"Minnesota has been a very special place," Thome said of career HR No. 606. "I enjoyed my time here. For them to do that means a lot, no doubt."

There will be questions. In fact, there were Wednesday night, when Thome tried his hardest to keep the discussion trained on the present while acknowledging that his future is very much in flux. He has thrived as a designated hitter over the past couple of series, but after this weekend in Toronto the Phillies will not need a DH until they reach the World Series (feel free to snicker). He sounds skeptical about his ability to play first base and remain healthy. The challenge will be to find some other way to stay sharp for pinch-hitting duty.

For one night, though, the win was the thing.

"It was a good night," Thome said. "No doubt."

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com

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