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Every now and again someone will ask Thome about steroids. Nobody likes to ask—he's such a nice guy, such a wonderful teammate that nobody wants to think that he used performance-enhancing drugs. And there's no reason to think it ... except that he has hit all those home runs.
Thome says he has never used—he's farm strong—but it's impossible to prove a negative. He doesn't really fit the profile. He is not much of a weightlifter; his workouts are much more aerobic in nature and designed to keep him loose. He has not had the stubborn injuries or the sudden and dramatic improvements and declines. He hit long home runs when he was 25. He hits long home runs at 40.
In any case, his brilliance is often lost because of the era. When he gets to 600 home runs in 2011, he will find that remarkable milestone has been, well, cheapened. Not that Thome worries about that sort of legacy thing—that's just more stuff to fill the brain.
The other day, he says, he was talking again with Joyce about how much fun this year in Minnesota has been. Hitting home runs again, being part of a pennant race again—he feels rejuvenated. "I told my mom, 'You know, I might just keep on playing for a while,'" he says. "How long? I don't even know. I'd hate to put a number on it. If I keep feeling like this, I'd like to play forever."
Thornton hangs his head, and Thome pounds his way around the bases after the first walk-off home run hit in Minnesota's brand-new Target Field. It's a big moment: The new stadium shakes with joy, and even at that moment people sense that the divisional race is over. This is the home run that people in the Twin Cities will always remember from the summer of 2010.
After rounding third Thome tosses his helmet high in the air before leaping into the pile of giddy teammates waiting for him at home plate. "I've had a lot of great moments," he will say. "That was as great as any of them."
One day later Thome comes to the plate in the seventh inning of another close game. Another power lefthander, rookie Chris Sale, is on the mound. There are two men on, two strikes on Thome. Sale moves him off the plate with a 97-mph heater, then throws him a slider. Thome sees it and unwinds that power swing. The sound of the crowd, as if left over from the night before, crescendos with expectation. But this time Jim Thome misses. This time he strikes out.
"Your charisma wasn't as good tonight?" he is asked after the game.
"Naw, it's just as good," he says. "Charisma's good every night. Something special is always about to happen. You've got to believe it."
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