Tony Thomas stepped into the batter's box at Fenway Park on an August afternoon last summer and sized up the Green Monster. It was a moment he won't forget and one that seemed eerily familiar on Wednesday.
"Anytime I try to hit one, I never hit a home run. I thought, 'Let me try to get a base hit.' We have the big wall, the monster in left, there's a little line that seperates the scoreboard and the end of the wall," Thomas said. "I hit it about five feet to the left of that. If I hit it five feet over to the right, it's a home run."
Thomas doubled off the Maine Monster, the Green Monster replica at Portland's Hadlock Field. A few feet proved the difference between a solid night and hitting for the cycle.
"I'll take the 4-for 4 night any day," Thomas said. "But it would have been nice."
Thomas fell a homer shy of the cycle and Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts tripled home three runs to back rehabbing left-hander Franklin Morales in the Double-A Sea Dogs' 10-4 win over visiting Reading.
Thomas went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs as Portland built a 10-0 lead by the fifth inning. Bogaerts, batting .298, delivered a two-run triple in the fourth to set up Thomas' fourth three-bagger of the season three batters later as the Sea Dogs tagged Reading starter Dave Buchanan for four runs.
"Actually, yeah, I thought about it," Thomas said of trying to complete the Minor Leagues' second cycle in as many days. "But I hit a hard line drive for a double. Derrik Gibson was telling me, 'You gotta lift that ball.'"
Morales, scheduled to throw two innings in his second Minor League rehab outing, struck out three and held the Fightin Phils to two hits on 24 pitches. The 27-year-old pitched for the first time since April 17 with Class A Greenville as he works his way back from a back injury and strained pectoral muscle. His was the 30th Major League rehab assignment in Sea Dogs history and the 24th as a Red Sox affiliate.
Thomas has been hot lately as he tries to earn a ticket back to Triple-A after spending the past two seasons with Pawtucket. He has 14 hits and eight RBIs in his last nine games to get his average up to .274 after hitting .241 in April. The 26-year-old -- acquired from the Cubs in 2011 -- spent all of last season at Triple-A where he batted .242 with 10 homers, 30 RBIs and 12 steals in 68 games.
"Definitely, this past week I've finally felt myself. I feel comfortable in the box, I'm trying not to do too much," Thomas said.
Thomas began the season in Portland to work on his transition from the infield to the outfield, a move he's happy to make if it means his path to Fenway Park comes into better focus. Last year, he played for Pawtucket in the Futures at Fenway doubleheader, which features a pair of Boston Minor League affiliates playing in the century-old ballpark.
"It definitely takes some getting used to, but the more I get out there [in the outfield], the better I feel. It's almost like a second home," he said. "I came up as an infielder and they wanted me to be more versatile. Down here, I can play every day whereas in Pawtucket, I would play every other day with all the prospects there."
Bogaerts also has been seeing the ball well this month, with 14 hits and nine RBIs in his last nine games. MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect owns a .373 on-base percentage and has hits in each of his last nine starts, including two homers, a double and four triples.
"He's just gifted all the way around and he's very humble, a great ballplayer," Thomas said. "He works hard every single day. Everything he does, he puts in the effort. He's definitely going to advance more in his career, he's a very hard-worker."
Portland, stocked with many of Boston's top prospects, like Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, rolled out another elite arm in Drake Britton (3-2). The organization's No. 12 prospect earned the win in relief by holding Reading to three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and five strikeouts in six innings. Pete Ruiz struck out the side in the ninth around a solo homer by Miguel Abreu.
Britton has given up three earned runs or fewer in five of his seven starts, recording 35 strikeouts over 36 1/3 innings in his second stint at Double-A. He went 7-12 with a 4.44 ERA in 26 games across two levels last year.
"If you walk around our clubhouse, you wouldn't expect these guys are top prospects," Thomas said. "Everyone is rooting for each other, team chemistry is a big part of why we're clicking. Everyone is rooting for the next guy, everyone is contributing."
For Thomas, the goal is to return to Fenway, ideally in the home dugout.
"I mean, in an ideal world, I'd be in Boston, I'd play any position to be in Boston," he said. "And even if it's not in Boston, just in the big leagues, I would love to be anywhere I can make it up, that's my main goal."
And getting his day in the city last summer still serves as motivation to get back.
"It was a blast, it was awesome, the atmosphere and to be a part of that, there's a lot of tradition in that ballpark," he said. "I would love to play with Boston across my uniform."