NORFOLK, Va. - Marcus Thames doesn't think about it when he's playing, but when he's away from the park, the thought becomes overwhelming.
"I wonder, 'What do I have to do to get to Detroit?'●" Thames said.
That's what many would like to know.
Last night at Harbor Park, Thames had another one of those nights. He went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, giving him an International League-best 22 homers and 54 RBIs.
The Mud Hens fell 6-4 to the Norfolk Tides, but it was an afterthought for many who are watching the leading candidate for league most valuable player .●.●. if he's forced to remain in Toledo all season.
"He does not belong in this league," Tides manager John Stearns said. "Detroit must have one great outfield if he can't play there the way he's playing."
After walking in the first, Thames clocked a solo home run to left in the third inning, singled, stole second and eventually scored again in the fifth, then doubled to right in the seventh. The Tides finally stopped the Thames attack in the ninth when Norfolk closer Jose Parra coaxed a fielder's choice out of the 27-year-old.
"The coaching staff was talking just the other day about Marcus," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. "We collectively agreed that if there's ever going to be a time when you call a guy up, it's going to be now. But Detroit's got a couple of guys who it's tough to work around, contract-wise."
Ask Thames why he's so hot and he gives an answer that sounds more like a diet than a hitting philosophy.
"I'm laying off all the junk," he said. "You know, I had a good year in 2001, but nothing approaching what's going on now."
The Mud Hens fell victim to a four-run fourth inning by the Tides, who chased starter Jimmy Haynes in that frame.
Jeff Duncan singled to open the Norfolk half of the inning, then scored on a double by Danny Garcia to left-center field. Victor Diaz then singled to right and Craig Brazell drew a walk to load the bases. After Haynes struck out Tom Wilson, he had John Pachot 0-2, only to give up a two-run double.
The fourth run scored when reliever Adrian Burnside balked.
Norfolk scraped another run across in the fourth and Wilson homered in the fifth.
Toledo's Andy Barkett went 4-for-4 and scored twice for the Mud Hens, in the second and then again in the two-run fifth. But it's fairly difficult these days to steal the spotlight from Thames.
"I keep expecting someone to take him in a trade," Parrish said. "It's hard to believe all of baseball can't use him."