Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thames Emerges As Unlikely Yankees Hero

I'll admit that I wasn't always the biggest Marcus Thames fan.

I hated his long swing. I hated how he played outfield like the foreign exchange student in gym class. I even hated his name—and no, not his oddly pronounced last name.

Has there ever been a likable Marcus? Really? No...no there hasn't.

But just when it looked like Thames had a chance to make my Mount Rushmore of most disliked Yankees—Rogers, Brown, Pavano, Mondesi—something strange happened.

Marcus Thames became...a fearsome slugger.

These things happen in baseball, but this is especially true for the Yankees, whose recent history is filled with one-hit wonders. It goes like this: Player X, unheralded and overlooked, emerges out of nowhere, has a run of elite and memorable play, and then quickly fades into the good night.

In my lifetime, Kevin Maas was on the ground floor of this phenomenon. But players like Mariano Duncan, Glenallen Hill, Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon, and Shelley Duncan all can lay claim to a time when, almost incredibly, they carried the New York Yankees.

And make no mistake, Thames is carrying the Yankees right now. The 33-year-old has homered in each of his last five starts, and is hitting .368 with seven homers and 14 RBIs in August. With A-Rod on the shelf and the Rays refusing to back down, where would the Yankees be without him?

I'd say credit is in order for Brian Cashman, and Lord knows Cash could use some positive reinforcement after some of his moves the past 10 months, but this is really all about Thames himself. He's a player who took a minor league camp invite and turned himself into an integral piece of the puzzle for the defending World Series champions.

It's a credit to the dude's perseverance more than anything else.

Lance Berkman is ready to come off the disabled list, but Joe Girardi would be crazy to force the underwhelming veteran into the lineup just because he can. Thames has earned the right to play, and until the magic runs out in his bat, he should be in the lineup every day.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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