MINNEAPOLIS — Clete Thomas’ baseball journey has taken a few twists and turns. A former sixth-round pick of the Detroit Tigers after playing his college ball at Auburn, Thomas spent parts of three seasons in the majors with Detroit but was mostly relegated to the minor leagues.
After playing just 145 games with the Tigers in 2008-09 and 2012, Thomas was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins early in the 2012 season. Even then, though, his major league season was limited to just 12 games with Minnesota after he switched teams. Most of the remainder of 2012 was spent at Triple-A Rochester.
Thomas was given another shot with the Twins in early June when they called him up from Rochester, where he was batting .296 with nine homers for the Red Wings. Thomas was handed even more playing time when center fielder Aaron Hicks was placed on the disabled list over the weekend.
He made the most of the opportunity on Wednesday.
Thomas had a career-high four hits and drove in two runs — including the tying run in the eighth inning — to propel the Twins to a 4-3 victory over the visiting Phillies. Thomas’ four-hit night matched his entire output in his 12 games with Minnesota last season.
“Clete Thomas, big, big night,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Huge night for him and for our ballclub.”
Thomas finished the game 4-for-4 at the plate as the Twins’ No. 7 hitter and combined with No. 6 hitter Oswaldo Arcia for seven of Minnesota’s 12 hits in Wednesday’s win. Arcia scored three times, twice thanks to RBI hits by Thomas.
Thomas’ first hit of the night didn’t travel far. A tapper to pitcher Tyler Cloyd resulted in an infield base hit. Two innings later, Thomas drove in Minnesota’s first run of the game when he doubled off Cloyd to score Arcia from first. Third base coach Joe Vavra gave Arcia the stop sign, but the rookie flew past it to score on Thomas’ double to right-center field.
After a single in the sixth inning helped set up another Twins run, Thomas came to the plate with Arcia on second base and nobody out in the eighth inning with the Twins trailing 3-2. On the second pitch from reliever Antonio Bastardo, Thomas smashed a double to right field and drove in Arcia to tie the game at 3-3.
“All the balls fell,” said Thomas, who entered Wednesday’s game just 1-for-13 since his call-up. “I hit some hard and just found all the holes. It was lucky. It was great.”
A perfectly placed bunt by second baseman Eduardo Escobar moved Thomas to third. Two batters later, with pinch hitter Chris Parmelee at the plate, reliever Justin De Fratus sent a wild pitch past catcher Steve Lerud and to the backstop. Thomas took off as soon as the ball snuck past Lerud and he slid across home plate to give Minnesota a 4-3 lead.
“I was going right away,” Thomas said of the wild pitch. “I was going and I was just hoping it didn’t kick hard off that wall. It didn’t. It stayed back there.”
On a night when Minnesota’s biggest bats didn’t do much damage in the heart of the lineup, it was the bottom of the order that helped spark the Twins’ comeback win. Thomas was front and center in leading the charge.
Wednesday marked Thomas’ 163rd career game, meaning he has finally played more than a full season in the majors. It’s likely that Game 163 was the most memorable for Thomas.
“Some good things there. That’s huge,” Gardenhire said. “We need hits. We need to score runs to pick our pitchers up, and tonight we kind of snuck that one away from them.”