Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Maybe Thome was the missing piece all along

Posted by: Phil Miller under Twins game coverage, On the road Updated: August 18, 2010 - 10:56 AM

The Jim Thome Experiment has turned into a Twins fairy tale.

Think of how the White Sox are feeling this morning after watching their guy turn the tables in the 10th inning Tuesday, taking a potential two-game separation between these teams and turning it to four with one swing.

What's unique about Thome is it's never about him. Listen to his postgame interviews and watch him spread credit around -- "What a game! What a game! ... Both teams played well. Give them credit, too. ... Let's face it, Matt Thornton is one of the best lefthanded relievers in the game," etc.

And it's never phony with Thome. He has 581 career home runs and needs three more to pass Mark McGwire for ninth on the all-time list. You'd think Thome had five homers after a 10-year wait to get to the major leagues.

Remember when the Twins wore those 1908 St. Paul Gophers throwback unis in Cleveland a couple weeks ago? Thome had an even bigger smile than usual that day. He got such a kick out of his get-up that he asked one of the Twins staffers if he'd mind snapping a quick cell phone photo.

Thome is playing on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. He'll make another $200,000 or $300,000 in incentives for plate appearances. You get the feeling he'd pay the Twins if they could help him deliver his first World Series ring.

He has been a perfect fit and perhaps the missing piece. They miss Justin Morneau dearly, but having Thome's lefthanded bat in the lineup helps make up for it. And when other Twins grumble about Target Field being a tough home run park, the team can just refer them to Thome's splits:

Home: 124 PA   9 HR   .275/.395/.618
Away: 129 PA   8 HR   .271/.388/.570

Not to minimize it. The Twins and their opponents have combined to average 1.28 HR per game at Target Field, compared to 2.79 HR per game when the Twins have played on the road. Target Field simply plays bigger than most parks, but it matters less for Thome, who could turn Yellowstone into a hitter's park when he connects. As a team, the Twins have adapted, finding other ways to score. They've reeled off eight home victories in a row.

Thome acknowledges it's a tough home run park but adds, "I think that’s benefited us, to be honest. Let’s face it, as you get close later in the year to the postseason -- and if we’re fortunate to get there -- that’s what ultimately wins what you want to accomplish, is pitching. Our pitchers have been wonderful. They’ve been great, and maybe the ballpark has helped. As hitters, we have to adapt to that."

Didn't realize this before deadline last night, but Elias research has Thome tied for the all-time lead with 12 walk-off home runs. Tied with Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Jimmy Foxx (Double X). It's fitting that he'd have the first one in Target Field history, a shot many of us will never forget.

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