Thames' homer lifts Tigers past Padres
Nine of last 10 hits for outfielder have been long balls
SAN DIEGO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a message on his cell phone after Marcus Thames' two-homer game Monday at San Francisco. It was from Leyland's brother, Larry, who called around 3 a.m. PT.
"He said, 'Do you believe me now?' Then he hung up," Jim Leyland said.
The more Thames homers, the better Larry Leyland must be feeling. After watching Thames at Triple-A Toledo for two years, he told his brother when he took the job that he had to take a close look at him. After Thames hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning Saturday to send the Tigers to a 7-5 win over the Padres, Larry Leyland isn't the only one keeping an eye on Thames.
The way Thames keeps homering, with nine of his last 10 hits leaving the park, even some of the game's greats are paying attention.
Thames attended a Salute to the Negro Leagues luncheon Saturday afternoon for the chance to meet such greats as Willie Mays, Minnie Minoso, Don Newcombe and Dave Winfield. Thames had never met Mays before. Even Winfield had noticed him after his tape-measure shot at San Francisco on Tuesday.
"I was like a little kid," Thames said. "It was awesome to meet those guys. It started my day off good."
By game's end, his day had a pretty nice finish. The Tigers had a comeback victory, and his 413-foot drive had cleared the outfield fence at one of the toughest parks for home runs in the Majors -- in one of the deepest parts of the park, no less.
"When Marcus hits them, no ballpark's going to hold them," Leyland said. "They just keep going."
Detroit erased two deficits in this game with three-run innings, both powered by two-run homers. Magglio Ordonez hit a third-inning drive to straightaway center that bounced off Jody Gerut's glove and cleared the fence for Ordonez's 11th home run of the season, nullifying the damage from Michael Barrett's two-run shot an inning earlier.
After a fielding mixup on a Gerut ground ball extended the fifth inning for Edgar Gonzalez's two-run double to pull San Diego back ahead, the Tigers answered in the seventh. Rookie Clete Thomas' leadoff double put the tying run in scoring position. Brandon Inge bunted Thomas to third and created a sacrifice fly opportunity with starter Nate Robertson's spot in the order coming up.
That was not Thames' time. As long as Padres starter Cha Seung Baek was still on the mound, Leyland was going to pinch-hit with rookie Jeff Larish. The left-handed hitter had struck out 11 times in 43 plate appearances for the season but had made consistent contact without strikeouts over the past week.
"With a guy like Marcus, you know he's sitting there," Leyland said, "and it's just a matter of when you pull the trigger."
Figuring the Padres would go with their only left-handed reliever for Granderson one batter later, Leyland kept Thames for that spot. Thanks to contact from Larish, Thames stepped to the plate with a tie score.
"Larish has done something the last few days that not many young players can do, and that's come off the bench after sitting around the last few days and get a base hit," Leyland said.
Baek (1-2) put Larish in an 0-2 hole before Larish slapped a hard-hit bouncer back up the middle and into center field, scoring Thomas. Padres manager Bud Black went to lefty Justin Hampson to face Granderson, and Leyland went to Thames.
And after Hampson hung an 0-1 changeup, Thames went out.
"Every now and then, they don't make you look so dumb," Leyland said. "Sometimes things fall into place. Sometimes they don't. But it's always the players. That's just the way it is. They do the job. The credit goes to the players."
Thames, for his part, is not trying to bask in the credit.
"If they make a mistake, I'm just trying not to miss them," Thames said. "It was a changeup out over the plate. He missed his spot. I didn't miss it."
Even so, he wasn't sure it was going out. He hit the ball directly toward the 401-foot mark in left-center field, and he doesn't like to watch his home runs as they travel out of the park.
"I hit it and looked at it, and I thought, 'You'd better go,' because you never know," Thames said. "The ball doesn't go out of left-center well at all, because it doesn't carry well at night, they say. I was trying to bust my butt and get around the bases."
The ball cleared the fence with room to spare. His last five home runs have topped 400 feet. Just as impressive, seven of his 14 home runs this year have come with the game tied.
The latest earned Robertson (6-6) his third straight victory in as many starts, the first time he has done that since 2004. He allowed five runs on seven hits over six innings before Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Freddy Dolsi held it for closer Todd Jones' 314th career save, tying Robb Nen for 15th on the all-time list.
Both Jim and Larry Leyland, meanwhile, could feel good about this one.
"If I said that I expected this," Jim Leyland said, "I'd be lying."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.