Sensational Thames returns home with HR

Brewers first baseman leads MLB in dingers after slugging No. 8 vs. Cardinals

April 20th, 2017

MILWAUKEE -- left Miller Park as a question mark and returned as one of the most talked-about players in Major League Baseball. Then he showed the home fans what all the fuss was about.

Thames hit a go-ahead, two-run home run -- his Major League-leading eighth this season -- in the Brewers' 7-5 win over the Cardinals. It came fresh off a nine-game road trip so magical that Thames called his boyhood hitting coach in California and said, "I have no idea what's going on."

"That's what happens when you're on a streak," Thames said after helping the Brewers beat the Cards' . "It's like your mind is on autopilot."

With Thursday's two hits, Thames is on a 10-game run during which he is 16-for-33 with seven of his home runs, including a five-game streak on the road in which he homered six times. In those 10 games, Thames has scored 16 runs, drove in 11, hit four doubles and collected five walks while striking out just four times.

In his second life in the Major Leagues following three seasons in South Korea, Thames is the MLB leader in OPS (1.481), slugging percentage (.981), total bases (52), extra-base hits (14) and weighted runs created plus (287).

"I think the big thing for Eric is he's making a statement early in the season," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It's big for our lineup. It's big for Ryan [Braun] having a guy ahead of him that they're going to have to be really careful with. He's just proving to be very dangerous."

Opponents are taking note: "His ability in a perverse way to walk away and go to another country and see baseball in a different light has benefited him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "My God -- this is [Daniel] Murphy-esque, this is [Barry] Bonds-esque. ... It's real interesting to see this."

"We've watched him pretty closely," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's obviously hot. He's on a pretty impressive run."

In other words, Thames has earned that beer he's been talking about.

"I have to go out and explore a little bit," he said early Thursday afternoon, talking about getting to know his new neighborhood in Milwaukee's Third Ward. "I do love a micro/craft IPA. A beer with a little weight to it."

His affinity for the stuff that made Milwaukee famous went viral after it came up in one of the myriad television, radio and print interviews Thames agreed to over the past week. Hitting a home run in five consecutive games, a streak that tied the Brewers' franchise record, made Thames a popular get.

That streak, which began during a four-game series against the Reds and ended in the opener of a series against the Cubs, surprised even Thames.

"I don't know what happened in Cincinnati. I have no idea," he said. "Like, even the last home run in Chicago, the camera showed me standing there like, 'What?' I have no idea what's going on right now."

He is used to this kind of attention. In South Korea, where Thames averaged 41 home runs over three seasons, fans nicknamed him "God." He still has a pile of T-shirts somewhere with that word written on them in Korean, a gift Thames sheepishly accepted. He went on a date one night and was out on the street kissing a girl when a fan tapped him on the shoulder and asked for an autograph.

Thames said he has yet to be recognized in public since returning to MLB on a three-year deal with the Brewers. If he keeps hitting at anything like his current rate, that is sure to change.

"There was one day I had to turn off my phone because it was getting blown up," Thames said. "But I'm not getting too carried away. You can revel in that during the offseason. During the season, every day, there is a game. You can't get caught up in past results. You just have to keep doing your routine and take it all in stride.

"I'm going to enjoy [the relative anonymity], going to a restaurant and having a beer and a burger and being able to kind of chill out. We'll see what happens. Fame is not too bad; I'm not going to complain about it, because they could hate me. I'd rather be liked."