BOSTON - Jim Thome hung around manager Buck Showalter’s office this morning, waiting for him to write out the lineup like a rookie preparing for his first game.
Maybe it felt that way after such a long stay on the disabled list.
Making his first start since July 27, Thome delivered an RBI double that broke a 6-6 tie in the top of the 12th inning. The Orioles tacked on two more runs and extended their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 9-6 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“It feels good,” Thome said. “You’re playing extra innings, you’re trying to get a feel. Fortunately, the ball was in the plate and it went over his head. It was a big hit. The guys who’ve been playing have been playing really well. A big hit like that is big, no doubt.
“Like we talked the other day, you want to be a part of what they’re doing and that’s why you work hard. That’s what makes you work hard when you’re down there. You really don’t know. You don’t know on rehab how the process is going to go, so being here and being in this atmosphere, you enjoy every minute of it, no doubt.”
The Orioles have won 16 straight extra-inning games after losing the first two.
“I think in baseball, I don’t want to say you have to have a little luck, but you have to have a little mojo on your side,” he said. “You have to be talented. Our bullpen has done a tremendous job, and so have
our starters. You can’t forget the offense, either. When you play extra innings, you manufacture runs. That’s one thing we’ve done really well. It’s not so much always been a home run. It’s been manufacturing runs and putting runs on the board and turning the ball to J.J. (Jim Johnson) at the end.”
And the club’s confidence continues to build.
“I think any time, when you guys talk about it a lot, we buy into it,” he said. “It’s like anything. Any time you’re on a streak or you’re doing well at something and you get in that situation, sure. It doesn’t
mean every time it’s going to happen, and the odds say it doesn’t. You ride it out as long as you can, and you don’t think about it too much. You continue to do what you’ve done.”
Thome was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a double play before delivering off Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves.
“To be honest, after five, six weeks, whatever it’s been, I’m just trying to get into a groove,” Thome said. “I’ve always said, you want to perform and you want to get big hits. It might take 15 at-bats.
The game is a weird game. That’s what makes it so fun. You can be 0-for-5 and continue to be positive and keep battling, and you get a big hit like that. Right now, where I’m at, I’m trying to get a feel for where I need to be.”
Showalter knows exactly where Thome should be - in his office before games and in the lineup against right-handed pitching.
“Jimmy just missed a couple earlier in the game and you could see the look in his eye,” Showalter said. “He was in here this morning. I talked to him before I posted the lineup and it was like his first game in Little League. Jimmy, he loves the competition. He loves the locker room feeling of being on a competitive club, and this is right up his alley.
“Jimmy will probably tell you. A lot of guys will try to low-key it, but Jimmy’s an open book. He’ll tell you exactly how he’s feeling. And I love when he comes in here and plops down and says, ‘Let’s talk baseball.’ He knows it.
“Jimmy, when he collides with the ball, usually something happens that you like when he’s on your team. A lot of guys would have thrown in the towel with the some of the issues he had going on with his back, but he grinded through it and came back to make a contribution, and I feel really good for him. He means a lot to our club and the clubhouse.”
Showalter refuses to overanalyze his team’s extra-inning prowess. He’ll just take the wins as they come.
“It’s not a topic of conversation for us,” he said. “It’s probably one of those things where, when you get away from it in the off-season, you kind of step back and go, ‘Really?’ But now, it’s about winning a baseball game, whether it’s nine innings or however many it was today.”
Pedro Strop retired the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning before giving up back-to-back doubles off the Green Monster that tied the game, 6-6. He hadn’t surrendered a run to the Red Sox in 12 1/3 innings over 11 outings.
“I thought Strop threw the ball great today,” Showalter said. “A strikeout, a weak ground ball, two routine fly balls that hit the wall. Hopefully, we’ll take that as a positive.”
Said Strop: “My command was where I wanted it to be. It was just one of those days. I don’t like to make excuses, but I felt pretty good. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can to get back to the point where I’m lights out again.
“It’s definitely a step forward. I feel like me.”
Tommy Hunter earned the win with a scoreless 11th inning. His fastball was clocked at 101 mph on the Fenway Park radar gun.
“If that gun’s right,” Showalter said, “he may have found a home.”