It is generally agreed that Jim Thome is baseball's best active player who doesn't have a World Series ring, much like Hall of Famer Ernie Banks carried that distinction throughout the final years of his career with the Chicago Cubs. The difference is that Thome has been to the postseason -- again and again and again.
That would be 10 times, for those who have lost track. Six with Cleveland and once apiece with the White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles. He was on two World Series teams, but Cleveland lost to Atlanta in 1995 and the Florida Marlins in 1997.
Thome hasn't exactly been Mr. October through the years, with a .211 batting average over those 10 tries, including a 1-for-10 showing when the Twins were swept by the Yankees in 2010 -- the last postseason sniff before the troubles began at Target Field. Thome has 17 postseason home runs, with 10 of them coming in 1998 and 1999. He is hitless in eight at-bats so far in the three games against the Yankees.
Yet he was so close to moving a bit closer to a ring on Wednesday night, until Raul Ibanez put on his incredible show -- smacking a pinch-hit home run (batting for A-Rod, at that) in the bottom of the ninth to tie Game 3 and then hitting another in the bottom of the 12th to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory that should have seared the skull of any Twins fan who was watching. Now, the Orioles are one game away from being finished.
The ending, combined with Thome's class, was a Godsend for Philadelphia Daily News writer Ryan Lawrence. Ibanez had been an important slugger for the Phillies during their title runs; Thome came to Philadelphia at the start of the season in hopes of getting the World Series ring -- and was traded to Baltimore when the Phillies' season went awry and the Orioles were looking at a championship run that few people expected.
Thome, being Thome, had props for Ibanez. He told Lawrence: "Raul has played a long time and first off, he's a wonderful person. But he's a great player, too. He's a guy that's always ready to hit. . . . He got a good pitch to hit and put good wood on it."
And Thome, being Thome, talked about his time in Baltimore in the same endearing way that made him so popular during his almost-two seasons in Minnesota: "It's been great. I've enjoyed every minute, the experience, the opportunity to come over here. It's a great organization and we have a lot of up-and-coming great players. To watch the city rejuvenate has really been a lot of fun."
Showalter on Thome: "I was looking at it today, 20-something years. And to have that same enthusiasm, talking about his dad coming to the playoffs and everything, it would be pretty cool to say that you were part of getting Jimmy what people like him deserve. It's an honor to have had him pass my way."
Thome, who turned 42 in August, also talked to Lawrence about whether 2012 would be the end of his Hall of Fame-bound career.
You can find his answer near the end of the story.