Last weekend at Citizens Bank Park, as the high-priced but reeling Phillies lost the first two games of a three-game series with the Marlins, the fans loudly booed the player who has become the symbol of the team's offensive futility: first baseman Jim Thome, the slugger who had heard almost nothing but cheers in his first two seasons in Philadelphia.
A career .284 hitter entering the season, including .277 in April, the 34-year-old Thome finished the month with a .203 average and one home run in 79 at bats--the worst power drought he's ever had to start a season. (His only homer came on April 21 against the Rockies.) Now Thome, who didn't play in Sunday's 8--6 victory, is day-to-day with recurring back spasms, an ailment that has been nagging him since spring training. "I'm not getting the job done," says Thome, who has averaged 47 homers over the last four seasons.
He has to get healthy and productive in a hurry for Philly (11-14) to contend in the competitive National League East. Though the Phils have the fifth highest payroll ($95.5 million) in the majors and play in a hitter-friendly ballpark, at week's end they ranked 12th in the league in home runs (18), 13th in runs per game (4.04) and 15th in slugging percentage (.371). "When you struggle, you start pressing," says first-year Philadelphia skipper Charlie Manuel, who also managed Thome when both were in Cleveland. "I've seen Jim get off to slow starts before. [This time] I think he's trying too hard."
Thome is anxious to work out the kinks. "My back is sore, but it's nothing that I can't handle," Thome says. "It's nagging. I know when I get to the point that it bothers me to get out of bed, I have to get it taken care of. [But] excuses don't cut it. It's time to hit." --Albert Chen