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Thome leads Phils over Twins, 6-1

By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — The exhaustive search for Jim Thome’s 607th home run ball proved fruitless Thursday night.

Long after the Phillies’ 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, an eight-person search party had temporarily removed the purple flowers where the ball had landed above the right-center field wall. They’d strapped one worker into a harness, hoping for better luck with an aerial view.

(PHOTO: Minnesota Twins’ third base coach Steve Liddle congratulated Trevor Plouffe on his solo homer in the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, June 14, 2012, at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)

They’d looked under every leaf and found one ball that was deemed too water logged to be Thome’s. Two security guards near the scene said No. 607 was officially lost.

Thome has successfully retrieved almost every home run ball he’s hit since 2007, when he was approaching the 500 mark, but not this one.

“I think it’s in some plant or something,” Thome said.

Add it the slugger’s Target Field lore. The most memorable home runs in the ballpark’s three-year history are almost all Thome productions. As a Twin, he had the Flag Pole Shot, the blast over the center-field batter’s eye, the walk-off homer against White Sox lefty Matt Thornton, and the sunny day when he hit Nos. 573 and 574 to tie and then pass Harmon Killebrew.

On Wednesday, he cleared the batter’s eye again, and some fan who had no use for the keepsake fired the ball back onto the field.

Asked if that one had grease on it from the State Fair Classics concession stand, Thome said, “It had a walleye stick on it or something.”

Reporters were rolling with laughter, and Thome smiled before assuring them, “I’m joking about the walleye stick. But that’s where they sell walleyes up there.”

Thome said he has his home run balls “tucked away for my kids.” Someday he might grab No. 606 and talk about the week he just had against his former team. Thome finished the series with nine RBI — the most he’s had in a three-game series in his entire 22-year career.

The Disappearing Flower Bed Shot was a three-run homer off the Twins hottest pitcher, lefthander Scott Diamond, and it gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead in the third inning. Joe Blanton, who had a 9.91 ERA in his five previous starts, made that lead stand, holding the Twins to seven hits in his eighth career complete game.

The Phillies are 3-9 in their past 12 games, but they halted the Twins streak of four consecutive series victories.

“I wished that’s all I had to worry about tonight — whether we could find the ball in the tulips,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Thome will turn 42 on Aug. 27, and for much of this season, it’s been fair to wonder if he had anything left in his Hall-of-Fame career. He signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Phillies and quickly remembered the National League isn’t a friendly place for hitters who belong in the DH role.

He tried playing first base, but his back wouldn’t hold up. He batted 2-for-20 (.100) with two singles, mostly in a pinch-hitting role, before landing on the disabled list in early May with a strained lower back.

Thome didn’t give up. He healed his back and spent time in Clearwater, Fla., getting at-bats in extended spring training games. He returned as a pinch hitter on June 6, and has been the DH for each of Philadelphia’s past six games, at Baltimore and Minnesota. In those games, Thome is 11-for-24 (.458) with two doubles, three homers and 13 RBI.

“Nothing he does surprises me,” Gardenhire said. “He’s such an ox. As a matter of fact, a blue ox.”

That or Paul Bunyan.

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