A's ride early runs, Murphy to rout
Oakland opens with six runs; third baseman homers twice
OAKLAND -- Frank Thomas said he received "quite a few" offers from teams looking to add his presence to their lineup in the wake of his Sunday release from the Blue Jays, but the A's were his first choice all along.
There were two reasons for that, the Big Hurt explained. One was what he'd seen during Oakland's three-game road sweep of the Jays earlier this month.
"I watched this team when it came to Toronto and thought, 'Wow,'" said Thomas, who signed with the A's on Thursday in time to play a minor role in one of the surprising young team's real "wow" wins of the season.
In the finale of a three-game series against the visiting Twins at McAfee Coliseum, Donnie Murphy homered twice, newcomer Rajai Davis had three hits and showed off his flashy wheels with an eye-popping triple, rookie Greg Smith worked seven strong innings and the A's banged out 15 hits in an 11-2 drubbing.
"[A's general manager] Billy Beane did an incredible job replacing the guys he traded," Thomas marveled. "It's a great young team."
The second reason for Thomas' return to Oakland, where he starred in 2006? Credit the team's small, but loud and loyal, base of hardcore fans.
"The fans are great," said Thomas, who received a standing ovation before his first at-bat and hearty ovations for each plate appearance thereafter. "They were so good to me when I was here before. They make me feel comfortable. That's one of the reasons I played so well here."
After shaking off nearly two years of rust related to foot injuries, Thomas was an absolute beast for the 2006 A's, tagging 39 homers and driving in 114 runs during the regular season for the American League West champs.
He wasn't a beast Thursday, going 0-for-3 as the designated hitter and cleanup man. But he drew the first of his two walks and scored as part of a six-run first inning that chased Twins starter Francisco Liriano with two outs.
"He showed the strike zone discipline that made him a career .300 hitter," A's manager Bob Geren said of Thomas, who has 13 walks in 77 plate appearances this season. "If it's not a perfect pitch, he's not going to swing at it."
Geren and several of his players said Thomas brought a certain air of accomplishment to the Oakland dugout. Mike Sweeney, who spent many years competing against Thomas in the AL Central when the former was with the Royals and the latter was with the White Sox, was particularly excited about finally getting to team up with him -- even if Thomas' presence means fewer at-bats for the veteran first baseman/DH.
"I don't know how it affects me, but it's still about winning games," said Sweeney, who started at first base and went 2-for-4 with a double off the wall and two RBIs. "However it shakes out, it shakes out. I just know he'll add some pop and some leadership, and I'm looking forward to playing with him."
"Frank had a really good year here a couple years ago," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They were looking for some pop, and once Frank gets going ... he can bring it to them."
Davis, claimed off waivers from the Giants on Wednesday, got it going right away in his A's debut. He started in center field and singled in his first and fourth at-bats, but it was his third at-bat that had the Coliseum buzzing.
Known as a "speed guy," Davis drilled a ball into the right-center gap and never hesitated on his sprint to third. So smooth was his stride, it looked like he was running on a conveyor belt.
"As soon as I saw [the ball] drop, I knew I had to go for three," Davis said. "If [you're known as a speed guy and] don't get three, it's like, 'What happened?' It was just great to get out and run."
And hit. That's something Davis didn't do much of with the Giants this year, going 1-for-18, making his approach to the five days off forced upon him while waiting to hear about his future a bit odd.
"I didn't do anything at home," Davis admitted. "Didn't take one swing, didn't pick up one bat."
Hey, whatever works.
The A's, who traded away their best pitcher (Dan Haren), their most dynamic position player (Nick Swisher), their most vocal clubhouse leader (Mark Kotsay) and their top utility man (Marco Scutaro) in the offseason, are turning conventional wisdom on its ear by leading the AL West with a collection of relative no-names.
Murphy, who essentially replaced Scutaro, was emblematic of that Thursday, when he homered in the fifth and sixth innings as part of the first four-RBI day of his career.
Smith was unsung hero No. 2, shaking off a leadoff homer by Carlos Gomez to improve to 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA in four starts.
"We have a lot of good players," Geren said. "Guys are getting opportunities, and they're jumping on it."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.