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Must C Curtains: Thome homers on special night

CLEVELAND -- This was Jim Thome's night. From the handful of standing ovations to the unveiled plans for a statue bearing his likeness at Progressive Field, Friday evening belonged to the most prestigious slugger in Indians history.

It was a game in which the final score did not seem to matter.

"It was his night," manager Manny Acta said.

The fans who poured into the ballpark saw Carlos Santana launch a walk-off home run to send the Indians to a 6-5 win over the Twins, but they arrived with appreciation in mind and witnessing history a hope. Thome, who has had a flair for the dramatic since coming back to Cleveland in late August, did not disappoint.

The signature moment came in the third inning, when Thome connected on a 1-1 pitch from Minnesota's Carl Pavano, sending the ball rocketing over a camera well high above the center-field wall. The two-run blast, the 604th of Thome's impressive career, brought the roaring crowd to its feet.

Thome enjoyed every step he took around the bases.

"It was just a special moment," Thome said. "Then you hit home plate and hear the crowd."

The home run was announced to have traveled 425 feet, which was fitting on a day when Cleveland was honoring No. 25. Following the mammoth homer, Thome -- the team's all-time home run leader, with 337 as a member of the Tribe -- answered a curtain call, emerging from the dugout to wave to the fans.

"They've embraced me," he said. "They've been wonderful since I got back here, no question."

The home run ball landed in the vicinity of Heritage Park, a short distance from the spot where Thome crushed a 511-foot homer on July 3, 1999, against the Royals. That is the proposed location for a statue of Thome, who did not know about the club's planned gesture until it was announced during a pregame ceremony honoring the slugger.

"That's surreal," said Thome, shaking his head in disbelief. "Statues, that's as good as it gets. I'm speechless on that one -- I really am. It was just an overwhelming, wonderful, great day. Very, very, very special."

Earlier this season, Thome said it was only right to show fans love when they offered some first. And in the first inning, when he stepped into the batter's box, he answered their cheers by doffing his helmet. He then pointed his bat at Pavano, settled into his stance and ripped an RBI double off the wall in left.

In the fifth inning, Thome checked his swing and chopped an offering from Pavano down the third-base line. With a drastic defensive shift in play, the Twins were unable to reach the ball before Thome -- much to the crowd's delight -- made it to first base for an unlikely infield single.

"He already had a double," Pavano said, "and almost hit one out of Ohio. I gave up every sort of hit to him today. So what are you going to do? I looked at him like, 'Come on.'"

It was fitting that the Indians waited until Friday, when the Twins came to town, to celebrate Thome's career and entrance to the exclusive 600-homer club earlier this season. On Aug. 25, Minnesota agreed to a trade that brought Thome to Cleveland -- nine years after he'd left via free agency.

In his second game back with the Indians, Thome launched an important home run that helped the Tribe to an 8-7 win over the Royals. It was Aug. 27, which happened to be his 41st birthday. On Sept. 16, Thome homered during his first game back in Minnesota since being dealt to the Tribe.

Then there was Friday's performance.

"It takes a special person to hit 600 home runs," Acta said. "Even at this stage of his career, when he's not an everyday guy, he can make special things happen with a swing of the bat."

After the infield single, Thome sat just a triple short of a cycle.

That improbable prospect had his teammates excited.

"The whole dugout," said Acta, beginning to laugh, "we were just trying to figure out where he could he hit the ball to get a triple. How was it going to happen? Who was going to fall down? And all of that. We wanted him to do it."

The show put on by Thome helped make up for a forgettable outing by Justin Masterson.

Masterson, who was making his final start of the season, walked away with a no-decision, but not before surrendering four runs on five hits over 4 2/3 innings. It marked the first time this season that the sinkerballer exited before logging five frames in a start that was not shortened by inclement weather.

Masterson walked six and hit two batters along the way for the Indians (78-78). Minnesota's Chris Parmelee played the role of villain, collecting a two-run single in the first inning and later launching a solo homer off Masterson in the third.

"I was just a little off," Masterson said. "I was just having a nice front-row seat watching Jim Thome. That's what the night was about. I was watching Jim-Jim do his thing."

Pavano left with the contest in a 5-5 deadlock after turning in 6 1/3 innings for the Twins (60-96). In addition to Thome's contributions, the Indians received offensive aid from Matt LaPorta, who chipped in three hits and two RBIs.

That set the stage for Santana, who pinch-hit for Lou Marson to begin the ninth inning. Santana attacked the first pitch he received from Minnesota's Matt Capps, sending it deep to right-center field to set off an on-field party underneath exploding fireworks.

"When I came to the plate," Santana said, "I thought about swinging at the first pitch, because I knew he was going to throw a fastball."

Sure enough, Santana got what he wanted, took advantage and sent the Indians to a win on a night dedicated to a player who has helped deliver so many over the years.

"We wanted to win for him," Acta said.

After all, it was Jim Thome's night.

"The guy is just right on cue," Masterson said. "You can just ask them, 'Why don't we have Thome Day every day?' It was incredible."

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