Thome remains mum on his chances of catching Griffey Jr. on home run list

SportsBaseballBaltimore OriolesRay FlahertyCleveland IndiansChicago CubsNick Markakis

CLEVELAND — Orioles designated hitter Jim Thome hasn't decided how much longer he wants to play, but he has a legitimate chance to catch an old teammate and friend on one of the most noteworthy lists in baseball history if he sticks around a little.

On Friday, the 41-year-old Thome hit his 610th career homer, putting him in seventh place all-time. He followed with No. 611 on Saturday and almost had another Sunday.

"When you start playing you don't think of [milestones]. You just keep playing," said Thome, who was traded to the Orioles on June 30. "It is very humbling. … But ultimately it is about winning right now. The home runs are nice, no doubt."

After sitting much of the first half of the season in the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies, Thome is playing regularly for Buck Showalter and the Orioles, so another half-dozen or so 2012 homers seems realistic.

To get to the top 5 in home runs seems like a real stretch for Thome. New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is fifth with 643 and counting. Willie Mays' 660 homers are fourth and the top three — Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) — are all more than 100 away.

But the sixth spot is held by Ken Griffey Jr. with 630. Another full season and Thome, just 19 behind, could move up a notch in history.

"I don't think of that. To be honest, I don't know how much more I am going to play," said Thome, who passed former Oriole Sammy Sosa with Friday's homer. "The number is not a thing I've been focusing on. Getting an opportunity to come over here and be on a team that has a legitimate chance in a pennant race is. I've enjoyed Buck; I've enjoyed the coaches and the players."

After checking to see how close Griffey was, Showalter said he thinks Thome could catch him if Thome wants to keep playing beyond this year. Regardless, Showalter believes Thome belongs in a special class of baseball people.

"Jimmy does a lot of things other than swing a bat and hit a ball where they can't catch it," Showalter said. "He just impacts a team in so many ways. He walks through the door every day with a smile on his face … He's just a lot of fun to have around, but he is also a competitive guy."

Thome admits he thought about passing Sosa simply "because it gets mentioned. But once it is over, you move on."

Moving up to sixth doesn't mean anything more to Thome, but passing Griffey, a contemporary for most of his career and a teammate with the Chicago White Sox in 2008, would carry some significance, he said.

"If that would happen, absolutely," Thome said. "For me, Griffey was very special because we were teammates and getting an opportunity to play with him and watching his career, [that] was pretty special for sure."

Flaherty starts again

Rookie Ryan Flaherty made his third straight start at second base Sunday, even with newly acquired Omar Quintanilla now in the fold.

Quintanilla, who had last played July 8 with the New York Mets, entered Saturday and Sunday as a defensive replacement for Flaherty. Quintanilla hasn't started a game since June 23.

Showalter said he wanted to ease Quintanilla back. The manager said Quintanilla, who was acquired Friday, will start Monday against the Cleveland Indians. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to get the day off, but Showalter wouldn't reveal whether the 30-yar-old Quintanilla will start at second or shortstop, his natural position.

Flaherty's presence in the lineup the past three games had a lot to do with Flaherty, who homered Friday and Saturday and went 1-for-3 with a run scored Sunday. Showalter wants to give the Rule 5 rookie more consistent at-bats whenever possible.

"I talked to him a few days ago about not getting timid, about letting it rip and getting after it. We talked about some of the tendencies [other teams] have shown and they are using on him, just to be aware of it," Showalter said. "I'm trying to give Q a couple days to kind of get grounded."

Trembley honored in minors

Former Orioles manager Dave Trembley will be one of 13 inductees into the Florida State League Hall of Fame in November. Trembley, who managed the Orioles from 2007 to 2010, managed for two decades in the minors, including four years with the Daytona Cubs in the FSL. His 1995 Cubs won the league championship.

The 60-year-old Trembley, who still lives in Daytona Beach Shores, is the first Daytona Cub to make the league's Hall. He is currently the minor league field coordinator for the Atlanta Braves.

Around the horn

After two hits Sunday, Nick Markakis is batting .364 (16 for 44) in 10 games as the club's leadoff hitter. He had never batted leadoff before in his career. … Twelve of the Orioles' last 17 games have been decided by three runs or fewer. They are 8-4 in those games. … Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. exchanged lineup cards before the game Sunday. They were teammates with the Indians.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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