When Andy MacPhail was general manager of the Twins, he used to talk about the small sliver of players who could put people in the seats all by themselves. He thought Kirby Puckett was that type of player. And Francisco Liriano certainly measured up during his rookie-year dominance in 2006.
That's different from Joe Mauer, from whom you expect a steady level of excellence -- 2-for-5, throw out a runner, get a rally started or keep it going.
But there's a special level of excitement when you have a flat-out masher in the lineup.
Years ago, toward the end of a lopsided game, the cue to depart Met Stadium was after Harmon Killebrew's final at-bat. When he came to the plate, it was one more chance to see something otherworldly.
In 2010, you can say that about Jim Thome.
When Mauer comes to bat, you breathe a sigh of relief. When Thome comes to bat, you hold your breath.
You think the Royals weren't careful Tuesday night? By the end of the fourth inning, everyone in the Twins batting order had gotten a hit -- except Thome. He'd been walked twice and hit by a pitch.
Even with the Twins piling up runs, you were waiting for something special.
It did. In Thome's fourth time up when, for the fourth time in three games, he sent a pitch very high and very far in a mammoth home run arc. It was Thome's fourth 400-plus foot home run in three games. (I'm hoping that Trevor Plouffe called home after the game and asked whomever answered the phone, "Did you see who I pinch hit for tonight?")
Three of those four home runs have been pulled more than 440 feet to the place in Target Field that should be named Thome's Landing. It tied Thome with Frank Robinson for eighth place on the all-time home run list at 586. (It tied Thome for fifth on the "presumably clean list" if you discount Bonds, Sosa and A-Rod.)
Not since Killebrew have the Twins had such an all-or-nothing slugger.
This season, 60 percent of Thome's hits (40 of 67) have been for extra bases and 56 percent of his plate appearances have ended with one of three results -- extra-base hit, walk or strikeout.
For some context, 33 percent of the Twins' hits this season -- from Thome to Punto -- have been for extra bases and 33 percent of their plate appearances have been an extra-base hit, walk or strikeout.
All of this excitement for $1.8 million this season.
And it's more than a sideshow. A game like Tuesday's reminds me of how much it would bite to be a Royals fan... or a Pittsburgh fan... or a fan of one of those other teams for which hope springs eternal and dies before summer.
Thome's bat has played a key role in the title chase. Ask Ozzie Guillen.