Updated: May 24th, 2011 12:37am
Jim Thome's emphatic return was 'freaking incredible,' despite loss

Jim Thome's emphatic return was 'freaking incredible,' despite loss

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minnesota Twins offense that ranks at or near the bottom in every major statistical category was in desperate need of a boost on Monday night, and that's exactly what Jim Thome provided with two home runs in his first game off the disabled list.

Of course, passive defense and a bullpen meltdown ultimately squandered what should have been a cause for celebration.

"You always want to come back and swing the bat well," said Thome, who last played on April 30 in Kansas City before landing on the DL with a strained oblique. "Unfortunately we didn't win the ballgame. That's what you want to do every night. It felt good, it felt good to swing the bat good, but ultimately ... it's all about winning, and winning the ballgame."

With the Twins trailing 4-1 in the fourth inning, Thome jolted the Target Field crowd with a 465-foot bomb over the right-field bleachers that scored Michael Cuddyer and brought the Twins within a run.

Three innings later, with the Twins leading 5-4 and Cuddyer on base yet again, Thome delivered an opposite-field shot to extend the lead to 7-4.

"How about Jim Thome tonight?" said starting pitcher Carl Pavano. "Is that amazing? I mean, that's an example of perseverance, focus, dedication, professionalism. He comes back from an injury and single-handedly carries us through that game. It's freaking incredible."

Thome now has 593 home runs in his career, including four this season to go along with a .237/.366/.492 batting line.

And it was only fitting that Thome would mash two home runs on a night where the Twins honored Harmon Killebrew at Target Field by unveiling the Hall of Fame slugger's signature on the right-field fence, as well as other various tributes.

Killebrew and Thome formed a close bond over the last two years, and many have called Thome a modern-day version of Killebrew.

Thome was unable to attend Killebrew's funeral in Arizona last Friday because he was rehabbing in Fort Myers.

"He was such a special guy," said Thome, who met Killebrew for the first time during spring training in 2010. "And being down in Fort Myers -- we had a moment of silence there -- you realize how many people he touched."

"He was a wonderful man, a wonderful human being who touched so many people's lives in a positive way. He was truly one of the best baseball men I think I've met in the game. I can really say that, because he'd give everybody the time of day, and he would listen."

"Within 10 minutes of meeting him, it was like you knew him forever. That's how comfortable he made you. He made you feel very good about yourself."

Gardenhire said prior to Monday's game that he wasn't sure how often he would pencil Thome in the lineup, considering possible injury risk and a logjam between the DH and corner outfield spots.

But as he showed on Monday night, Thome is ready to do some heavy lifting.

"You never want to put your club in a situation where you miss time," Thome said. "It's a frustrating thing as a player."

He added, "Nothing's too late. You never look at anything as being too late. The bottom line is you want to try to win some ballgames and get on a good streak."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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