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Phillies end with final celebration
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09/28/2003  5:13 PM ET 
Phillies end with final celebration
Thome wins NL home run derby
By Mike Gennaria / Special to MLB.com

Tug McGraw re-creates his 1980 World Series mound leap during postgame ceremonies. (Rusty Kennedy/AP)
PHILADELPHIA -- As the last baseball game ever played at Veterans Stadium wound down, the Philadelphia fans got a chance to embrace one of the ballpark's newest residents.

"Thome -- Thome -- Thome," rang out from the sellout crowd of 58,594 as the city's newest superstar took his final at-bat of the season.

When Jim Thome signed with the Phillies this past offseason, manager Larry Bowa advised fans not to expect too much. After all, Thome is a perennially slow starter and he was changing leagues. Bowa also didn't expect the team's new first baseman to match the 52 home runs he clobbered for the Indians a season ago.

While Thome didn't hit 52 homers in his first season as a Phillie, he did manage to send 47 balls out of the park in 2003.

The 47 home runs tied Alex Rodriguez for the most in the Major Leagues this season and led the National League. Thome edged Barry Bonds and Richie Sexson, who each finished with 45.

Thome also finished in the top five in the league in RBIs (131), walks (111) and runs scored (111).

In the final season at the Vet, Thome acclimated himself quite well. He collected 28 (or 59.6 percent) of his dingers at the Vet, the most homers at home by any player in the NL.

Thome quickly littered the Phillies record book with his name as well.

The homer total fell one shy of the team record, held by Mike Schmidt, who hit 48 in 1980. The 131 RBIs were a career high for Thome and placed him fifth on the Phillies' single-season list. It is the most RBIs by a Phillie since 1932.

But it wasn't just Thome's power at that plate that almost instantaneously endeared him to the Philadelphia fans. He gained their respect and admiration through his hustle and clutch hitting on the field and his kindness and team-first approach off it.

Some of the long balls being of the mammoth variety also helped.

The fans got another chance to show their appreciation for Thome in the ninth inning. When the Braves' first batter walked to the plate to start the top of the ninth, Bowa removed him from the game. After a hug from Tomas Perez, who took over at first base, Thome trotted to the dugout as the crowd rose to its feet.

Thome then obliged the fans and came out for one final curtain call of the year.

This all came after the slugger was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd upon his first trip to the plate on Sunday.

"It was great, words can't describe it," Thome said of how he has been received in Philadelphia. "I feel honored."

The fact that Thome went 0-4 on Sunday seemed insignificant. As did the fact that the Phillies lost the game, 5-2, to the Braves.

Thome, who was with the Indians when Cleveland's Municipal Stadium closed in 1993, soaked in the finale at the Vet.

"To play here the last game and see the people, it was awesome," he said.

Bowa was pleasantly surprised that Thome became part of Vet history in just one season.

"Very seldom do you see a guy play one year and put a mark on a stadium," Bowa said. "That's what he's done. That's hard to do."

"For him to make a mark this quick is pretty impressive," the manager said.

Bowa also got a chance to recognize 41-year-old reliever Dan Plesac on Sunday. With Plesac's retirement a possibility, the manager brought in the left-hander with two outs in the ninth inning. Plesac struck out Ryan Langerhans to close out the frame. Plesac struck out the first batter he faced when he began his career in 1986.

Plesac said it was an emotional moment for him and he credited Bowa with giving him the opportunity.

"I saw all 18 years flashing in front of me," Plesac said.

"It was a [heck] of a gesture from Larry Bowa," he added. "I appreciate it."

The last game at Veterans Stadium brought out a softer side of the usually stern Bowa. The manager played 12 seasons with the Phillies. Included in that time was a World Series win on the Vet turf in 1980.

Fighting fairly unsuccessfully to hold back tears, Bowa tried to explain what the day meant to him.

"I guess it was just playing here, defying the odds, winning a world championship, playing with Hall of Famers," Bowa said, his voice trailing off.

With a loss in the final game, the Phillies moved to 1,415-1,199 in 33 seasons at the Vet.

Mike Gennaria is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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