Thomas homers, but A's lose to Yanks

Thomas homers, but A's lose big vs. Yanks

OAKLAND -- With their ace on the hill, the Yankees in town, a full house on hand for Opening Night and surprisingly clear skies, the A's were perfectly positioned to make some magic Monday, and Frank Thomas did his part.

In his first official at-bat with the A's, Thomas won a battle of likely future Hall of Famers -- Big Hurt vs. Big Unit -- by smoking a Randy Johnson fastball into the left-field bleachers for career homer No. 449 to open the bottom of the second inning.

Unfortunately for A's fans, all that did was cut New York's lead from seven runs to six in the early stages of a 15-2 loss that set the franchise record for most runs allowed in an opener and redefined the word "buzzkill."

"Now we know we're not gonna go undefeated," A's catcher Jason Kendall deadpanned in his best gallows humor. "It was just one of those nights."

In the first start of what's expected to be his last season in Oakland, lefty free-agent-to-be Barry Zito had a night unlike any he's had, struggling through the shortest outing of his career and rendering moot every potentially memorable moment from the home team's perspective.

"Sometimes things just don't go as planned," Zito said.

After quickly dispatching Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter to open the game and get the crowd of 35,077 on its feet, Zito suddenly lost command of the strike zone and the game. He managed to get out of the first inning despite two-out walks to Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez, but he was gone before getting two outs in the second.

A leadoff walk to Hideki Matsui was followed by a walk to Jorge Posada, setting in motion a seven-run rally capped by Rodriguez's 12th career grand slam.

"That was the difference, falling behind [in the count]," Zito said. "I had good stuff in a physical sense. I was just trying to be too fine."

Zito often chastises himself after poor outings for not being aggressive enough, so his self-assessment was familiar. But when asked if facing a modern-day Murderer's Row such as this power-packed version of the Yankees makes it more dicey to attack the strike zone, Zito essentially said no.

"When you try to be too fine, it doesn't matter who the other team is," he explained. "I've had some rough ones against Tampa and some other sub-.500 teams, too. ... I've just got to be tougher. I've gotta be tougher out there."

When Zito walked off the mound following A-Rod's rocket, which came on Zito's 59th pitch of the night, he did so with a line of seven earned runs on four hits and four walks over 1 1/3 innings and an early season ERA of 47.26. For the night, the five A's pitchers issued nine walks and hit three batters.

"That's not the formula when you play the Yankees," said Oakland manager Ken Macha. "You get behind in counts, they're gonna kill you. You're just asking for trouble."

Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "We got a lot of walks, got in some good counts, and even when we fell behind, good things happened. We had good, quality at-bats tonight, and we never stopped coming at them."

Not even Thomas' blast could get the crowd, which included 1,000 folks who paid for the right to stand through the game, back into it. For even the handful of A's highlights that followed came with some sort of cruel qualifier.

Kendall, who allowed an MLB-high 101 stolen bases last year, threw out Robinson Cano in the third inning, but shortstop Bobby Crosby's glove hand took a serious spiking on the play, leading to Crosby's departure two innings later. Macha said Crosby, who suffered a deep cut on the index finger of his glove hand and will get X-rays on Tuesday, likely won't play in the season's second game.

"Let's hope it's just tomorrow," Macha said.

Among the other highlights was new right fielder Milton Bradley's highlight-reel catch in the fourth, but Matsui's three-run homer off Kirk Saarloos in front of Bradley's grab had pushed the Bronx Bombers' lead to double digits by that point.

And though recently acquired lefty Brad Halsey briefly endeared himself to the anti-Jason Giambi portion of the crowd by drilling the former A's slugger in the hand in the fifth, it simply set up Matsui's fourth RBI of the night on a single that made it 12-1.

"Some of the things I saw, I hope are previews of what's gonna happen this year," Macha said, referring to Thomas' homer and Bradley's catch and two hits. "And some of the things I hope aren't. ... The bottom line is we're gonna show up tomorrow."

That was the general consensus among the A's, who were handcuffed on five hits through Johnson's seven strong innings and didn't score after Thomas' homer until Kendall's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.

"We got our butts kicked," Kendall said. "But what are you gonna do? You get over it, you forget about it, and you try to win the next one. There's 161 of these left to play."

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.