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Thome launches tiebreaking homer in 8th

9/19/2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Credit this big win to Jim Thome -- and the
winds of Hurricane Isabel.

In danger of blowing a must-have game, the Philadelphia Phillies
rallied against Dontrelle Willis and later beat the Florida Marlins
5-4 Thursday on Thome's tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning.

The Phillies pulled within a half-game of the Marlins for the NL
wild-card lead, taking two of three in the series. Thome homered in
each game, tying Barry Bonds for the NL lead with 43.

Thome said he wasn't sure his last ball was gone until the gusts
gave it a boost. But the key play came a few innings earlier, when
Mike Lieberthal's little popup became a tricky adventure that
turned in the Phillies' favor.

"The wind was playing havoc, but it helped us out," Thome
said. "What a great game. Awesome game."

Said Florida manager Jack McKeon: "The wind certainly had an
effect."

Philadelphia's victory clinched the NL East for Atlanta, the
Braves' 12th straight division title. The Phillies and Marlins,
meanwhile, will meet three more times next week at Florida.

With the hurricane approaching, the start time was moved up from
7:05 p.m. to 1:05. Signs outside Veterans Stadium offered fans the
opportunity to exchange their tickets if they did not want to
weather the advancing storm.

A crowd of about 35,000 had been expected, and 20,915 spirited
fans actually showed. Winds were gusting up to 32 mph at the
beginning and there were scattered sprinkles.

Hot dog wrappers constantly whipped around the park and Phillies
second baseman Tomas Perez got a big cheer when he playfully
fielded a blowing newspaper.

"The wind just kept picking up," Lieberthal said. "The
conditions were unbelievable. Pitches were kind of cutting and
moving much more than usual."

So were popups.

The Phillies trailed 3-1 in the fifth when they put two runners
on with two outs. Lieberthal lifted a soft pop down the line and
first baseman Derrek Lee, who earlier made a snazzy play on a sharp
grounder, took off in full pursuit.

Lee tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball hit
off glove, juggled in the air, and again bounced away from his
grasp.

Lee managed to flip the ball to center fielder Juan Encarnacion
for the late relay home, and stayed sprawled on the foul line as
the tying runs scored.

"It was a real tough play. I almost had it," Lee said. "It
blew back on me, and I almost had it again. I just couldn't hold on
to it. I just couldn't reach it, it kept drifting."

After Florida's Miguel Cabrera and Philadelphia's Placido
Polanco homered, Thome put the Phillies ahead for good.

Thome pulled a full-count pitch over the right-field seats for
his 43rd homer to lead off the eighth and pumped his fist as he
rounded the bases.

"When you get to this time of year, everything is magnified,"
he said.

Thome tied the team record for homers by a lefty, set by Chuck
Klein in 1929. The 43 homers are the most by a Philadelphia hitter
since Mike Schmidt's 48 in 1980.

Rheal Cormier (7-0) pitched two shutout innings. Chad Fox (2-1)
gave up Thome's shot.

Polanco's homer off Willis in the seventh tied it at 4. Known
for his exceptionally high leg kick, the rookie left-hander kicked
at the dirt in slow motion as Polanco rounded the bases.

Bobby Abreu followed with a double that chased Willis, who tied
a career high with nine strikeouts.

"Four or five runs, you should be able to get it done, but
that's baseball," Willis said. "We're still a half-game up."

Cabrera put the Marlins ahead 4-3 with a solo homer in the sixth
off Kevin Millwood. Earlier in the game, Cabrera became the 1,000th
strikeout victim of Millwood's career.

The Marlins took a 3-0 lead in the fourth. Millwood's throwing
error allowed a run to score and set up an RBI single by Cabrera
and a sacrifice fly by Alex Gonzalez.

"We had the lead, but just didn't hold it. Twice. When you get
a three-run lead, you've got to close them out," McKeon said.

Pitching for the first and last time at Veteran Stadium, Willis
blanked the Phillies until Perez homered to start the fifth.

While Lieberthal's ball was correctly ruled a hit, the Marlins'
team record streak of nine games without an error ended on a bad
throw by Gonzalez from shortstop in the eighth. Florida had gone 90
innings without a miscue.

Game notes
The Marlins are 10-7 against the Phillies this season. ...
Florida planned a quick getaway after the game for its flight to
Atlanta. Much of the team's personal luggage was packed aboard the
plane in advance. ... The Phillies finished 51-26 against the
Marlins at the Vet. ... Union lawyer Gene Orza said he told
Lieberthal on Tuesday that if the game was washed out, it would be
made up in Florida next week. Orza said he then asked Lieberthal
whether it should be moved up to a day-night doubleheader Wednesday
and was told by Lieberthal that players were against that.