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Continued: Sid Hartman: Thome humbled to pass Killebrew

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 3, 2010 - 11:58 PM

After hitting his 574th home run Saturday, Twins designated hitter Jim Thome, the humble man that he is, wanted to talk more about Harmon Killebrew, the man he passed to reach 10th place on the all-time career list.

Thome had met Killebrew in spring training for the first time. And Thome's father is one of the big Killebrew admirers.

"That's something that will go down in my book as one of the better moments in my career, for sure," said Thome. "You might tie a guy, but you really might not have ever met that person. To meet Harmon and get an opportunity to be with him in spring training and -- I mean he's a legend, he's a legendary person, too -- that's what makes it even better."

On meeting Harmon at spring training, Thome said: "You know, my dad always used to talk about Killebrew. It's kind of a neat story because my dad has told me two different times that people think my dad is Harmon Killebrew. They've actually approached him in Dodger Stadium last year asking for his autograph. My dad has had, I think, two or three requests asking him if he would sign a baseball and he goes, 'No,' and then they think that he's Harmon Killebrew. So it's kind of a pretty cool thing. I look forward to giving [my dad] a call, and he'll be excited. He'll be excited. At some point I'd like to touch base with Harmon, too, and thank him for everything."

After Thome's second blast of the game, which came in the fourth inning and landed in the bullpen in left-center field, the game stopped as a taped congratulatory message from Killebrew was played on the scoreboard. Thome said he was moved.

"I mean, coming here [to play at Minnesota] for all those years, obviously you hear the name, you know," Thome said. "He's one of the greatest sluggers of all time. To have the game stop like that was very emotional, very special."

On moving up the home run list, he said: "I've tried to keep that all in perspective. The thing is, you've got to know your role, do your work -- we've talked about that -- and not get ahead of yourself. Home runs are not something that happen every day, and I try not to get caught up into that. It's special when it happens. But our main priority right now is to win ballgames, and however that's happened, if it's a home run, if it's a double, that's how you approach it."

Thome has been on a real hot streak lately, hitting two home runs on Saturday plus adding a double.

"You continue to do your work, stay true to your program, and I think [manager Ron Gardenhire] has done a really nice job of how he's handled everything. It's been good," Thome said.

Twins pitching improves

Twins starters Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn had serious troubles winning on the recent National League road trip, but they have regained their form at home.

Baker, after giving up 11 hits and six earned runs in losing to the Mets, came home to stop Tampa Bay with six hits and one earned run in a victory Friday.

Slowey gave up six hits and five earned runs to the Mets in six innings, but came back at home last Wednesday to hold the Tigers to four hits in six innings and got the win.

Blackburn at Milwaukee gave up six hits and five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and got a loss, and then came back to stop the Tigers last Tuesday with seven hits and four earned runs and get the win.

Jottings

One worry that Twins General Manager Billy Smith doesn't have is the future signing of Delmon Young, who is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Young isn't eligible for arbitration until after the 2011 season, and the following season he can be a free agent.

Young was batting .264 a year ago through July 3 with 24 RBI, three home runs, six doubles and six walks. On the same date this year, his batting average is .295 with 54 RBI, nine home runs, 21 doubles and 15 walks.

Justin Morneau a year ago was at .311 with 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 41 walks. His current batting average is .346 with 54 RBI, 17 home runs, 24 doubles and 49 walks.

Joe Mauer had a batting average of .390 with 45 RBI, 14 home runs, 12 doubles and 32 walks. He has a current batting average of .303, 34 RBI, three home runs and 33 walks.

Jason Bartlett, who went to Tampa along with pitcher Matt Garza in the trade for Young, had a banner year last season, hitting .320. Going into Saturday's game, Bartlett, who has been injured, was hitting .220. Meanwhile, Garza is one of the aces of the Rays staff with a 9-5 record with a 4.08 ERA.

Royce White, the former Hopkins star and Mr. Basketball, is telling friends that he is down to Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State. White, accompanied by his high school coach, Ken Novak, visited Iowa State, and new Cyclones basketball coach Fred Hoiberg said he was impressed. Meanwhile, Gophers coach Tubby Smith said that he hadn't talked to White for some time but has visited with friends of White about his future.

Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers basketball player who was idle last year because of court problems, was burning up the Howard Pulley League until he suffered a dislocated finger on Thursday night.

Unfortunately, the two top Twins minor league teams are having record poor seasons. The Class AAA Rochester Red Wings of the International League had a record of 31-53 after Saturday's game, 16 1/2 games out of first place, while the Class AA New Britain franchise of the Eastern League was 24-58, and 26 1/2 games behind the top team.

Brendan Harris, the Twins infielder sent down to Rochester to try to regain his batting touch, through Saturday had played in seven games and was hitting .087. Rochester catcher Wilson Ramos, who had a seven-game hitting streak while filling in for injured Joe Mauer, is hitting .210 for the Red Wings. ... Jose Morales, the designated hitter who missed spring training because of injuries and is ranked a top Twins prospect, is hitting .265. Pat Neshek, the Twins pitcher who is doing a rehabilitation stint at Rochester, is 1-0 with a 5.94 ERA. Neshek has pitched in 162/3 innings and given up 13 runs. ... Meanwhile ex-Gophers and Twins pitcher Glen Perkins had been struggling with a 1-8 record but had his best outing of the season on Saturday. He shut out Buffalo in a 1-0 victory, going 6 2/3 innings and giving up only three hits. He lowered his ERA from 8.06 to 7.39.

Kyle Gibson, the Twins' 2009 first-round draft choice, is 5-3 for New Britain with a 3.86 ERA.

Mike Nealy, the Wild's former vice president of finance, was named the chief operating officer of the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday. Nealy, a graduate of Alexander Ramsey High School in Roseville and the University of Minnesota, joined the Coyotes four years ago as a vice president and CFO. Nealy is also a season ticket holder for Gophers football.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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