|Something that hasn't been seen since|
1996 — Jim Thome playing third base.
For one pitch. For sentimental reasons.
Sentiment is basically why Thome's spending this month with the Indians, who were sliding out of contention when the Twins sold him to Cleveland. He takes a few swings, accepts a few cheers, rebuilds the affection Indians fans once felt for the franchise's all-time home run king.
Thome sounds as if he's inclined to play again next season. If he does want to return, it won't be with Cleveland. The Indians have a $13 million commitment to Travis Haefner, and it makes no sense to devote two roster spots to injury-prone left-handed DHs, neither of whom can play in the field. If Cleveland could find a taker for Haefner, they probably would have done so ere now.
With one out and one on in the seventh inning of a tied game Sunday, Cleveland manager Manny Acta had Thome pinch hit. It was a curious choice: The Twins had lefty Glen Perkins on the hill, and the man Thome was hitting for, Shelley Duncan, is a power-hitting righty. Perkins walked Thome on four pitches, then got a double play to end the inning.
And then Thome borrowed a glove from teammate Jack Hannahan — Thome hasn't played third since 1996, and hasn't played defense at any position since 2007, when he played first base in one game — and went out to play third base.
Acta said later that he had instructed reliever Joe Smith to throw his first pitch well out of the strike zone, to make sure Thome wasn't actually called upon to make a play. But Smith threw a strike to Trevor Plouffe. Then Acta replaced Thome with a legitimate player
Ron Gardenhire, who had been tipped off to the plan by Acta, said: "I just wanted Trevor to drop a bunt down first pitch, just to entertain ourselves."
I don't know if Gardenhire was serious in saying that. I'm guessing he was joshing. I do know that, listening to the radio broadcast on the way to work, that's want I wanted. Bunt on him.
Would that be disrespectful to Thome, to try to take advantage of a sentimental gesture in his behalf? If so, it is also disrespectful to the game, to the spirit of competition, to have a frivolous player in the field, even for a single pitch in a game that won't change the standings one iota.