SIX TIMES in 7 years, a terrific lineup pushed the Cleveland Indians to the postseason.
Jim Thome believes that can happen again . . . in Philadelphia.
The Phillies' offense awakened in the second half of 2007. It propelled the Phillies to an unlikely division title that year, after a fire sale at the trade deadline.
It brought the second World Series in franchise history to Philadelphia last year.
It made the Phillies the best team in the National League East virtually all season this year, and, before last night's Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, it had them cruising toward a second straight World Series berth.
Thome, the Dodgers' big bat off the bench, cut his teeth winning in Cleveland, before playing for the Phillies from 2003 to 2005.
"Their offense has a lot of weapons. They can do some really nice things. It reminds me of our '90s Cleveland teams," Thome said recently of the Phillies. "You've got speed. You've got power. And solid hitters."
Those teams featured Roberto Alomar, a second baseman with power - like Chase Utley. They had power in outfielders Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle, a Bentley version of the Phillies' Cadillacs, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth.
They had speedy defense at centerfield and shortstop with Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, respectively, perhaps an upgraded version of Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins.
And, at the corners, they had a kid named Thome, who played third base the first two postseason trips, in 1995 and '96, before moving to first base in 1997. The Phillies haven't matched the Indians' occasional power at the corner opposite Thome - Paul Sorrento at first, then Matt Williams at third – but when first baseman Ryan Howard crushes an average of 49 homers a season, maybe that's enough.
Howard's promise led to Thome's trade from the Phillies to the White Sox after the 2005 season (the Dodgers snagged Thome this season via trade to help push them to the NL West title).
Signing Thome in 2003 for $85 million sparked a rebirth of baseball in Philadelphia. He sent off Veterans Stadium, opened Citizens Bank Park, and helped erase a legacy of penny-pinching and losing.
Trading Thome helped the Phillies free money to extend the contracts of Howard, Cole Hamels, Utley, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, as well as making more money available to eventually add Cliff Lee via trade.
So, yes, Thome's connection to the Phillies resonates still.
"You can't erase the history," he said. "I had fond memories here. And, ultimately, the goal was to do what they've done. I've said, from top to bottom, it's as class an organization as there is."
Not that he's rooting for the Phillies:
"You never want to pat them . . . that's not what it's about. I'm on the other side now. It's nice to see what they did . . . last year. Let's not say 'this year.' "
Man of the people
Everyman Dodgers manager Joe Torre took in the Bruce Springsteen concert Tuesday night, the off day between Games 4 and 5. When the Wachovia Spectrum crowd realized he was there, it chanted, "Beat LA! Beat LA!"
After gamely enduring the chant for a few moments, Torre put a finger to his lips. The chant quickly dissipated.
Such is his influence.
"It was more of a dig than of a serious nature," Torre said. He put his finger to his lips to demonstrate his mojo: "They responded to this, too."
Third baseman Casey Blake, like the rest of his teammates, downplayed any dissension that might have come after Manny Ramirez, taken out of Game 4 for defensive purposes, showered while the Dodgers blew a ninth-inning lead: "I really can't explain a lot of things, and that's one of them." *