Thome the Oriole is back in town

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2012 - 10:20 PM
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The Orioles' Jim Thome, center

Photo: Algerina Perna, MCT

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Jim Thome knew the National League would be a tough fit at this stage of his career, and his first two months with the Phillies basically proved it.

Thome, 41, was batting .100 with zero home runs on June 7. He tried playing first base and wound up on the disabled list because of a back injury. Interleague play convinced him he could still be a good designated hitter.

From June 8-14, the Phillies visited Baltimore and Minnesota, and Thome went 11-for-24 with two doubles, three homers and 11 RBI as the DH.

Thome hit career home run No. 609 on June 23 against Tampa Bay, in Philadelphia's final interleague series. The home run tied him with Sammy Sosa for seventh on baseball's all-time list. One week later, the Phillies traded Thome to Baltimore for two minor leaguers.

So Thome was back at Target Field on Monday, this time as an Oriole. He went 3-for-4 as their DH against Detroit on Sunday but wasn't in the lineup Monday with the Twins starting lefthander Scott Diamond.

"It's been great getting four at-bats and being able to make those adjustments compared to pinch-hitting once a night," Thome said of his return to the American League. "I have a lot of respect for guys that are successful pinch-hitting. It's a tough job."

Thome batted .242 with five home runs and 15 RBI for the Phillies. Entering Monday, he was batting .257 with zero home runs and two RBI in nine games with the Orioles, still needing one more home run to pass Sosa.

Thome is the all-time leader in home runs hit against the Twins, with 61. He had two homers and nine RBI at Target Field in that three-game series last month for Philadelphia. The last homer -- No. 607 -- landed in the flower bed beyond the right-center field wall and wasn't found until long after the game.

"I saw [workers searching] when we left," Thome said. "The guy was hanging [from a harness, trying to retrieve it]. I'm like, geez, they're going to all lengths to get it."

Manager Ron Gardenhire had the ball in a case on his desk at Target Field but said he was holding it for ransom.

"Make my day, thrill me," Gardenhire said, relaying a message to Thome. "I'm not talking about on the field. I want to see something that helps one of our favorite charities around here."

Home run haven?

Home runs are definitely up at Target Field. Entering Monday, the Twins (43) and their opponents (57) had combined to hit 100 home runs in 45 games there, or 2.22 per game. That's up from 1.55 per game last year and 1.43 per game in 2010.

Of course, Twins pitchers had allowed the most homers in the majors -- combining home and road -- at 1.35 per game. That included 1.44 home runs allowed on the road, and 1.27 at home.

Asked if the ball is carrying better at Target Field, Gardenhire scoffed.

"Yes, that's exactly what it is," he said. "It's carrying really well, especially those belt-high fastballs."

Justin Morneau, who urged the Twins to move in the fences after the 2010 season, said the ball has been carrying better.

"The ball carries better when it's hotter, and we had hotter weather earlier," he said. "I don't think anything's changing. Most of [the homers] are still coming from righthanded hitters. With [Josh] Willingham hitting a lot of homers here, I'm sure it's made a difference."

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