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TB@PHI: Phils walk off on Thome's historic homer

PHILADELPHIA --- Jim Thome cherishes moments like these. They are moments he says he will never forget.

He has said he doesn't know how much longer he's going to have them. But it certainly hasn't stopped him.

Thome hit a ninth-inning, walk-off home run on Saturday to propel the Phillies to a 7-6 win over the Rays. It was his 609th career home run, tying him for seventh place all-time with Sammy Sosa, and 13th career walk-off homer, now tops in Major League history.

Once Thome smashed Jake McGee's full-count, 97-mph fastball the opposite way -- at least 15 rows deep into the left-field stands at Citizens Bank Park -- the Phillies dugout emptied and met him at home plate. This win was special. Not only did it help the Phillies move out of last place in the National League East and complete their second walk-off win in the past week. It was also the 900th win of manager Charlie Manuel's career, a man whom Thome has forged a longtime relationship dating back to their days with the Indians.

"To do that, to accomplish that for him [and] help your club win, that's kind of the ultimate, for sure," Thome said. "Especially all that he has done for me -- all the history, the journey we've been on together. It's very special, for sure."

Thome's longball capped a 3-hour and 40-minute game that saw nine pitchers, a 13-year veteran hit his 17th career home run, and the first blown save for one of the most reliable closers in the game.

LUCKY NO. 13
With his walk-off homer in the ninth inning of the Phillies' win over the Rays, Jim Thome became the all-time leader in the modern era (1900-present) with 13 walk-off homers.
No. Player
13 Jim Thome
12 Jimmie Foxx
12 Mickey Mantle
12 Stan Musial
12 Frank Robinson
12 Babe Ruth

Jonathan Papelbon took the mound for the Phillies with a 6-4 lead. He allowed RBI singles to Jeff Keppinger, in his first game back from the disabled list, and Brooks Conrad, and left the game with his first blown save in 18 chances.

"I came in the clubhouse, and I said 'Whoever walks this guy off, I'll give 'em five grand,' " Papelbon said. "I didn't think Jim would do it right off the bat. ... I just wrote him a check for $5,000."

With the win and a Marlins loss, the Phillies moved into sole possession of fourth place in the NL East for the first time since May 4. The Phillies own a 34-38 record entering Sunday's doubleheader in which Cole Hamels (10-3, 3.25 ERA) and Cliff Lee (0-3, 3.48 ERA), their two most established starters not on the disabled list, will make starts.

Could Saturday's win be just what the Phillies needed to turn around their season?

"I just felt like the first couple months of the season we hadn't been catching many breaks. Lately, it seems like we've been catching some breaks and guys have been picking each other up," Papelbon said. "Maybe that's what we needed. Maybe this is what our team needed to get rolling again. This was a huge pickup for us by Jim Thome. I couldn't be happier for anybody else in this clubhouse."

During the Phillies' recent nine-game road trip to American League parks, Thome hit .333 with four home runs and 14 RBIs. But now that it appears he can no longer play first base due to back problems, questions arose about Thome's role as a pinch-hitter for the rest of the season. Could he perform well without getting regular at-bats every game?

He entered Saturday 0-for-12 this season as a pinch-hitter.

"I guess that shows you he can still hit 'em," Manuel said minutes after Thome was pied by teammate Shane Victorino.

To keep sharp while on the bench, Thome will start moving around in about the third or fourth inning. He'll hit in the batting cage, with a pitcher close enough and throwing hard enough to emulate the speed he will see in the game.

"Pinch-hitting, I've said it all year long, it's a challenge," Thome said. "How do you conquer it? You have an at-bat and then you've got a day to sit on it -- and then you come back and you've got another. It's a challenge to try to conquer something that's very difficult to do. ... I have a lot of respect for guys who have done that in their careers, for sure."

"For Jimbo to [hit the walk-off home run], you wouldn't want anyone else to do it because he's been waiting over there the whole game, getting his hacks in," outfielder Juan Pierre said. "He was ready and he came through."

Before the ninth-inning drama, Pierre had authored the game's signature moment -- a two-out, three-run home run in the fourth inning that gave the Phillies the lead. For Pierre, a scrappy veteran who spent most of his career as a leadoff hitter, it was his first home run in 367 at-bats, with his last coming on Aug. 16. He has hit just five homers since 2006, and 17 for his career.

"It shocked me coming off the bat," said a modest Pierre, who went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases and had a hand in four of the Phillies' seven runs. "I was just trying to get a base hit up the middle like I normally do, but [Rays starter James Shields] left it up. That's one of the few times you'll see me smile going around the bases. The guys were giving me flack and I told them, 'C'mon guys, I've only hit 17 of them, so you've got to enjoy it.'

"That's got to be the first time that a guy with 600 homers and 17 homers hit them in the same day."

"It's a big win for us," Thome said. "Hopefully, we can build from this, get going and start playing some good baseball."

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