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DOWN THE LINE

Fans, Jim Thome pay respects to Harmon Killebrew

Current Twins slugger has a lot in common with the late Hall of Famer.

May 28, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Fans stop by the statue of Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew outside Target Field on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Fans stop by the statue of Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew… (Jim Mone / Associated Press )

Fitting Tribute

More than 4,000 fans filed into Target Field in Minneapolis on Thursday for a moving 2½-hour memorial to Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who died this month of esophageal cancer at 74.

Flags flew at half-staff. Huge floral displays — two of them featuring red flowers that formed Killebrew's uniform number, 3 — stood on the field behind the pitcher's mound. And high on a building across the street, a water tower was draped with Killebrew's number as well

Twins players were not required to attend the event, and only a handful showed up. But among them was Jim Thome, a man many have compared favorably to Killebrew.

"It's just respect," said Thome, who cut short his regular off-day trip home to his family in Illinois. "It was very, very important to come back and be a part of it for sure.

"It was very touching."

Both Thome and Killebrew came from small-town America — Killebrew from Payette, Idaho, Thome from Peoria, Ill. And both went on to hit more than 570 big league homers without losing an ounce of humility or warmth.

"Humbling," Thome said of the comparisons. "You listen to people talk and you listen to all the good things. And you listen to just the man he was and how he treated people. It makes you really stop and think just how special this guy was.

"The man will forever live. His legacy is there."

Raising Arizona

The Arizona Diamondbacks were largely overlooked in the National League West this spring, but after winning 12 of their last 14 — the team's most successful run in three seasons — they entered Saturday 1½ games behind the defending World Series champion Giants.

And with San Francisco missing its top offensive threat, catcher Buster Posey, and the Colorado Rockies a big league-worst 7-18 in May, the Diamondbacks are looking like possible contenders in what has become a mediocre division.

Pitching has carried Arizona back into contention with its staff registering a 3.00 earned-run average in May. Ian Kennedy, who has won his last five decisions, leads the rotation with a 6-1 record and a 3.01 ERA. And the bullpen has been even better with new closer J.J. Putz converting all 15 of his save opportunities, holding opponents without an earned run in 18 of his 21 appearances.

And he is only one of five Arizona relievers with an ERA of 1.94 or lower. Plus, the Diamondbacks are seventh in the majors in runs despite an anemic .246 batting average and more than 7½ strikeouts a game.

If Arizona's bullpen can keep protecting the leads its hitters have scratched out, there might be more October magic ahead for Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson.

Stat watch(Hands of Stone edition)

• Yankees pitchers and catchers have as many errors (12) as the Tampa Bay Rays' regular eight position players combined.

• Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus has more errors (10) than extra-base hits (8). But he has also turned more double plays (44) than any other shortstop in baseball

• Only two outfielders have more putouts in left field than the White Sox's Juan Pierre. But Pierre also leads American League outfielders with five errors.

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