Manuel was Thome’s first manager ever in the Indians’ farm system, and he became the slugger’s hitting coach in Cleveland in the mid-90s followed by managing him for several years. Then, the future Hall of Famer joined forces with his mentor serving as an advisor in Philadelphia when he signed with the Phillies as a free agent in 2002.
So it was only fitting Thome’s game-winning home run coincided with Manuel’s 900th win as a major league manager yesterday in the Phillies’ 7-6 victory over the Rays. The team needed that after Jonathan Papelbon blew a save in the ninth inning.
Thome hasn’t had good moments so far in his second stint with the Phillies. He has been on the disabled list this season, and he hasn’t played well by going 0-for-12 as a pinch hitter and striking out eight times in the process. Coming off the bench has been a tough adjustment for him after being a designated hitter in recent years.
One wondered if Thome had anything left. When interleague play started, Manuel used him as the designated hitter. It worked out well for him as he hit four home runs and drove in 14 runs in that role when the Phillies were playing at Baltimore, Minnesota and Toronto. He also had 12 hits at that time. This certainly made Thome feel good about himself.
The Phillies manager had to know how to pick his spots in using his player with interleague play being over. That is not easy to do when looking at the matchups late in the game. Thome is not a guy that is going to hit relievers that throw at 90 mph anymore. He is also not going to hit power pitchers like he used to anymore. That is a delicate balance that Manuel has to find moving forward.
Despite all that, Manuel has to give Thome a chance out there. He can’t expect him to fail by not playing him against relievers that throw hard. Yesterday was one of those times he took a chance despite matchup problems, and it worked out well when the Phillies pinch-hitter homered off Rays reliever Jake McGee, who threw at 98 mph.
Thome has always believed he can add value to the Phillies by coming off the bench. He accepted that when he signed with the team. He never showed any frustration when things were going bad for him early on. That’s a credit to his character. He kept working through it, and it is now working out for him. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising he was going to figure it out after he started hitting in interleague play.
If there is something to learn about Thome’s good run as of late, it is that no one should give up on him even if things go bad. He will find a way to make it work. It’s no wonder why he has been beloved by his teammates and his managers in his 21 years as a baseball player. That type of attribute is why he has no interest in retiring. He hopes he can keep playing as long as his body can hold up.
Thome came to Philadelphia this offseason in an attempt to get his first championship. It is the only thing that is missing from his resume. He has put great numbers in his career by hitting 608 home runs. He has played 21 years in Major League Baseball. Those are great, but it’s about the ring for him. He knows great players are validated by winning a championship.
It is hard to believe he will achieve his objective with the Phillies. In fact, he may not make a playoff appearance with the team if they keep losing games. This could convince the team to trade him to a contender in the American League.
Thome will not be the everyday designated hitter for an AL contender, but he can be useful as a player coming off the bench if he can keep it up. This is why he has to continue to play well as a pinch-hitter for the Phillies while he is still playing for them, so that teams can be interested in him
With the way he is playing lately, his value can go up as the season heads to the dog days of summer.