Marcus Thames went 5-for-5 in his first game of the year and did something even better to wrap up the season.
The 28-year-old outfielder, who finished the regular season with a .340 batting average and spent parts of five months with the Detroit Tigers, was selected as MiLB.com's Triple-A Playoff Performer of the Year after leading the Toledo Mud Hens to their first championship since 1967.
In eight postseason games, Thames batted .407 with an International League-high three homers, 10 RBIs and an .815 slugging percentage.
"The guy can play," said Mud Hens starter Jason Grilli, who paced the pitching staff with a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 playoff innings. "When he stepped in the box, he knew he was gonna wreak some havoc."
Thames set the tone early in Game 1 of the first round against the Norfolk Tides. He put the Mud Hens on the board with a two-run homer before knocking in the game-winner with a sacrifice fly.
In Game 2, Thames blasted another two-run shot, but it wasn't enough, as the Tides rallied to even the best-of-five series at 1-1. The Mud Hens bounced back the next day thanks to Thames, who went 3-for-3 with a walk, a key stolen base and three of the team's four runs.
Toledo dropped Game 4 but Thames was still at the center of the offense, going 2-for-3 with a walk to raise his postseason average to .538.
Mud Hens manager and former Major League All-Star Larry Parrish praised Thames for playing hard and never being bitter despite his limited opportunities.
"Here was a guy that had a great Spring Training and didn't make the big league club," Parrish said. "They're not sure he's a big league hitter, but from what I've seen over the last couple of years, I don't agree."
According to Parrish, the Triple-A Manager of the Year, Thames' positive attitude rubbed off and made things easier for the younger players.
"He had never won a ring before, and he was really committed to the fact that he was going get one," Parrish said. "At the end of the year, he just put the team on his shoulders."
Though Thames was not a factor as the Hens beat the Tides, 5-3, in the decisive Game 5, he came up big in the Governors' Cup Finals against the Indianapolis Indians. In Game 1, the Mississippi native went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, an RBI double, and a huge outfield assist, gunning down a runner at third to slow a second-inning rally.
Thames contributed an RBI double in a Game 2 victory and saved his final fireworks for the series clincher. In the top of the fifth inning of Game 3, he broke a scoreless tie with a two-out three-run homer to dead center. The long ball jumpstarted the offense as Toledo went on to score five more runs over the next three frames for an 8-3 win and a commanding series sweep.
"I'm glad that Marcus was on my team," Grilli said. "I do know that."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.