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Thome conjures visions of Stairs

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – Ned Colletti went out and got Jim Thome(notes) and every baseball fan in this town thought of one guy: Matt Stairs(notes).

And one pitch: Fastball.

And one right-hander: Jonathan Broxton(notes).

And one of the longest, loudest home runs Dodger Stadium had ever seen.

“Yeah,” Colletti said. “Me too.”

Of all the reasons the Dodgers were run out of the NLCS last season (and there were plenty), there was but one pivotal moment, and it belonged to Stairs and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Tie score, Game 4, eighth inning, Dodgers straining to tie the series. Stairs is announced as the pinch-hitter. Broxton comes in from the bullpen.

The ball ought come down any day now. As should the Phillies, for that matter.

The Dodgers have been rebuilding since, putting pieces on top of pieces, Hudson on top of Ausmus, Sherrill on top of Belliard, and now Thome on top of Garland, see if that works.

They're still playing their way back from that fastball and that matchup, the big April and May and then a lot of here and there, and now the postseason is five weeks away and if you had to seed the National League division leaders the formerly run-away Dodgers would be third, distantly.

So, you're Colletti and you find the White Sox delivery menu hanging from your doorknob this week and you figure, I'll take one of … those.

Now Thome has a locker between Andre Ethier(notes) and Casey Blake(notes), and a fellow 500-homer teammate in Manny Ramirez(notes), and a nice, warm seat next to manager Joe Torre and a date with the on-deck circle in the eighth or ninth inning every night. He'll play first base in L.A. about as often as he did for the past two seasons in Chicago, which was never.

But if the rest of the month goes even reasonably well for Thome and the Dodgers, Colletti will have his guy for Ryan Franklin(notes) and Brad Lidge(notes) and Huston Street(notes) or Brian Wilson(notes), just like the Phillies had their guy for Jonathan Broxton.

Maybe it'll cost them two players per shot (Thome to hit, Juan Pierre(notes) to run for him) and maybe Thome won't take to the work at all (only three of his 564 home runs were struck as a pinch-hitter, as which he's a .215 hitter) and maybe Thome's body won't even make it that far. He just turned 39 and can look it.

But at an end-of-August deadline period that was unusually active and even marginally productive for more than a few teams, and for a Dodgers team that couldn't bring itself to pull the trigger on Roy Halladay(notes) or Cliff Lee(notes) at the July 31 trading deadline, Jon Garland(notes) will fill up some innings and Thome will stand around and maybe intimidate people and keep the opposing lefties up and alert. There's value in that. He's still a tough out for right-handers, still a guy who can squeeze a bullpen, still an affable fellow who – who knows – might even get his former Cleveland Indians teammate Manny going again.

Thome was expected to arrive Wednesday. He received the news in Minnesota, returned to Chicago to pack, and should be out of Chicago and back in contention by mid-day, by which time he'll be reincarnated as Matt Stairs.

“I think we have time to figure that out,” Torre said. “I know if I'm sitting in the other dugout and he comes up to the plate, he's getting my attention.

“You're managing against Philadelphia, you try to manage it that you've got a lefty warming up. As I say, when you're in the other dugout he gets your attention.”

Torre loves his veteran guys, the ones who've been around and seen a big moment or two and don't scare, just the way he loved Straw and Sojo and Chili and Leyritz and Girardi in New York. Of course, he loved good pitching more, and the Dodgers might not have enough of that.

They're still down an ace and a 1(b), and counter that with no serious holes at the end of the rotation. Vicente Padilla(notes) was acceptable Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks and Garland will go against them Thursday, odd as it would seem to start the series in one dugout and finish the series on the mound for the other club.

“A little strange,” Garland granted.

Meantime, it's September and the teams of the West are pretty much flogging each other with mediocrity. The Rockies add Jason Giambi(notes) and Jose Contreras(notes), the Giants counter with Brad Penny(notes) and Ryan Garko(notes), the Dodgers do their thing.

For the moment, quantity is passing for quality, crossed fingers are passing for scouting and, in L.A., Thome is passing for Stairs. Now, Thome is a possible Hall-of-Famer, even a likely Hall-of-Famer. Stairs is not. But on the day the Dodgers traded for Thome, it was impossible not to remember the other guy.

Torre laughed.

“I thought of him today,” he said.