04/29/08 2:44 AM ET
Long balls lead A's to rout of Halos
Big Hurt goes 3-for-3, falls home run short of hitting for cycle
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
It was Frank Thomas, Oakland's 39-year-old hulk of a designated hitter, thundering around the bases at Angel Stadium on the way to his first triple since 2002 and his second three-bagger since 1998.
"It's been a long time since I had one of those," Thomas said with a huge smile after the A's pounded out a 14-2 victory to move a game ahead of the host Halos to take over first place in the American League West. "That was fun."
Thomas, who has 516 career home runs, had so much fun that he didn't care a bit about being lifted for a pinch-runner after his seventh-inning double, leaving him a homer short of hitting for the first cycle of his career.
"Not at all, not at all," said Thomas, who went 3-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs against Halos starter and former White Sox teammate Jon Garland. "We had a chance to add on there. [A's manager Bob] Geren did the right thing."
When Thomas left the game, the A's were leading, 6-2. The pinch-runner -- Chris Denorfia -- not only scored, but he got to bat in Thomas' spot in the order later in the same frame, chipping in with an RBI infield single before scoring again on a two-run single by Rajai Davis that capped Oakland's eight-run outburst.
Asked if he thought about keeping Thomas in the game to take a swing at a career first, Geren said the long history of close, tense games between these AL West rivals superseded any such consideration.
"I just felt at that point, every run we could add on would help our chances of winning," explained the skipper. "Sticking with the team concept there."
What Thomas did not do, Daric Barton, Jack Hannahan and Emil Brown did. Each homered for the A's, who tied their season high with 16 hits and set a season high in runs in the first meeting of the year between these AL West rivals, who'll square off three more times here this week before parting ways.
The Angels, who won the division in 2007 and added Garland and All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter over the winter, checked into Spring Training heavily favored to repeat.
"We know they're the team to beat," Geren said.
The A's went into full-blown rebuilding mode over the winter, selling off stars for prospects, and they entered Spring Training with very little expected of them.
Winners of eight of their past 10 games, 9-3 on the road, and 4-1 since adding Thomas to the middle of their mostly young lineup, the A's will wake up Tuesday morning with at least a share of first place for the 17th day since the season started.
"A lot of people in the media wrote them off, but when we saw them in the spring, we saw they had a good offensive lineup," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We knew we had to pitch well. You have to go after these guys. They have some power and they have some veteran hitters."
One of the veterans is 33-year-old Brown, who was discarded by the Royals over the winter despite leading Kansas City in RBIs for each of the past three seasons. He ran his RBI total to 25, second-best in the AL.
"He's hungry. He's motivated," Thomas said. "To lead that team in RBIs for three years and not have a job? That's a little strange. So he probably feels the same way I felt when I came here [in 2006] after Chicago let me go. You want to prove something."
A's righty Chad Gaudin was the beneficiary of the offensive fireworks, winning his third consecutive start by holding the Halos to five hits over six strong innings, but his performance was essentially relegated to footnote status in the wake of Big Hurt's big night.
And that was fine with Gaudin, who called Thomas' triple "priceless."
Geren said the triple "gave the dugout a pretty good lift," and Gaudin said Thomas gives the team a lift at all times with his mere presence.
"In the lineup, obviously, it's great. At any time the guy can leave the house," Gaudin explained. "But in the clubhouse, off the field, he's just as good. ... He's just so positive.
"When I heard he was coming back, my day, my whole year, got a lot better."
Barton singled off Garland with two outs in the first inning and scored the game's first run on Thomas' triple, a popup down the right-field line that rolled into the corner after Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero overran it. An inning after the Angels tied the game on Robb Quinlan's single in the second, Barton hit his first homer of the year, a three-run shot to right.
"Nice to see him get that first one," Geren said of Barton's blow. "It was a big one, too."
Thomas added a soft RBI single in the top of the fifth to extend the lead, and after Mike Napoli's solo homer in the bottom of the frame made it 5-2, Hannahan got the run back with a solo shot of his own in the top of the sixth.
The game got out of hand in the seventh as Oakland pummeled reliever Chris Bootcheck, who took over after Thomas drilled a line drive into left-center field for a double to chase Garland. Thomas was lifted for a pinch-runner, after which Brown greeted Bootcheck with his third homer of the year, and the rout was on.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.