Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 46.
THE DATE: June 21, 2003
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Boston Red Sox, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
THE STAKES: Very few, but hey, it’s interleague baseball!
THE GREAT: You can’t blame us. You can’t blame us for expecting other-worldly things from Jim Thome when Ed Wade somehow convinced him to come to Philadelphia for the 2003 season. It wasn’t just that Thome was a stud in the prime of his career. It’s that Phillies fans were STARVED for a star.
J.D. Drew turned us down. Pat Burrell was still developing and we weren’t ssure what he’d become. Scott Rolen masqueraded as a star before thin skin hastened his ticket out of town. Even the 1993 team didn’t really have one, so we were now staring at about 15 years without a true star of a baseball player. Meanwhile we had Barkley, AI, Lindros, Reggie, Randall and McNabb since the time Mike Schmidt retired to 2003, so we knew what stars looked like. We just couldn’t find them in a Phillies uniform. So in stepped Thome, a hulking star if there ever was one.
When mid-June rolled around and he was still hitting below .250, with no really meaningful home runs on his ledger and the Phillies already almost 10 games back of the Braves, we were getting “meh” on Thome, or at least on the Phillies. But on this day, he woke every one of us up and made us realize why we fell in love with his mere possibility months before.
Against the Nomar-Manny-Pedro Red Sox – with Pedro pitching this game, actually – Thome blasted a solo home run with two outs in the eighth to tie the game at two.
I gave up after Jose Mesa predictably surrendered a run in the 12th to break the tie, and because watching Jose Mesa pitch with a runner on base is one of the most excruciating exercises one can put themselves through. And because I was at my buddy’s beach house in Avalon, and I had now wasted almost four hours on this game on a gorgeous South Jersey beach day. And because I was going to the game the next day anyway.
So when my friends yelled at me while in the outdoor shower that Thome had done it AGAIN and tied the game at 3 in the 12th, I thought it was a half-hearted joke to get me to run out of the shower naked while they took pictures or something. But it was all true.
So was the top of the 13th inning, when Mesa gave up two more runs (after getting the first two batters of the inning on strikeouts).
After a David Bell double pushed the Phils within one, behind the strength, grit and energy Thome had brought, Todd Pratt came up with his signature Phillies moment: a two-run, walk-off home run that allowed the Phils to beat the Sox on a day that Pedro pitched. Pratt was the conquering hero, but Jim Thome was the undisputed star. Of the game, and the team.