Walk-off blast drums up old memories

NEW YORK -- Before Marcus Thames begins his workouts every year in Mississippi, he pops in his favorite DVD. It is from June 10, 2002. On it, Thames watches his first big league at-bat, a home run off none other than future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

That day ended with his Yankees teammate at the time, Alberto Castillo, smashing a shaving-cream pie in his face during his postgame interview.

On Monday night, Thames earned a similar pie -- but a sweeter version, as chef A.J. Burnett favors Cool Whip over Barbasol -- because Thames hit the game-winning two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon to finalize the Yankees' 11-9 come-from-behind victory over the Red Sox.

"It is an awesome feeling," said Thames after washing off the sweet taste of victory. "Especially against those guys."

Especially since Thames wouldn't have had the chance if Joe Girardi weren't dealing with his injury-of-the-day club. If Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada were healthy, Thames never sees Papelbon's 93 mph fastball that he lined into the left-field seats.

"Marcus probably wouldn't have been in the game," Girardi said.

No, he certainly wouldn't have been in the game. Not in that spot. Not against that right-handed closer.

But once Alex Rodriguez contributed some more late-game magic, Thames had a chance to make a Yankee classic moment for himself.

He connected on a no-doubter home run that may be the end of the Red Sox as a legitimate threat in the AL East. Thames turned on Papelbon's pitch and then was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.

After the Yankees finished jumping all over Thames, hitting coach Kevin Long found Burnett in the home dugout.

"Welcome him to the Bronx," Long yelled to Burnett.

Burnett said he waited until the Yankees stopped jumping around like little kids.

"Then I came out like a little ninja," Burnett said.

Kim Jones' YES Network postgame on-field interview with Thames was interrupted by what has now become a Yankees tradition. The taste of victory and the feeling of elation filled Thames and swept through what remained of the 48,271 in attendance.

"I wish I could do it a lot," Thames said.

This past winter, he didn't know whether he would get a chance to do it again. He didn't wait long to pop in the Big Unit/Castillo video and begin his offseason workouts.

In October he began his training early, because at 33 -- with a .246 career average and a bad glove -- Thames didn't know whether he would get another chance to play, let alone be a Yankee.

When GM Brian Cashman came calling, Thames jumped at the chance. He wanted to be a Yankee again.

The day Castillo got him with the pie is fresh in Thames' mind. Most players can't tell you the current date, let alone one from eight years ago. But "June 10, 2002" rolls off his tongue.

Thames, who also had an RBI double and a sac fly on his four-RBI night, looked happy as he walked out of the Yankees clubhouse. He wasn't going to celebrate. His goals were more modest.

On a team filled with big stars that are hard to relate to, Thames was just going home to be a dad to his two toddlers.

"I'll try to get them to sleep," Thames said after his dreamy night.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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