Thomas powers A's to sweep

Thomas powers A's to sweep

SEATTLE -- Frank Thomas hit a mammoth three-run homer and two singles to finish with four RBIs on Sunday, and Nick Swisher hit a home run in the eighth inning that proved the difference in a tense 7-6 win over the Mariners.

The moment that meant the most in the minds of Oakland's two most prolific long-ball artists, however, came when Thomas lumbered home from second base on a fifth-inning single by Swisher.

With two out and the count full, Thomas took off early and challenged the rocket arm of Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Thomas won when the throw sailed high and up the third base line.

For Swisher it was further proof that Thomas -- who went 7-for-13 with six RBIs and two walks in the three-game sweep -- have confidence that his oft-injured left foot and ankle are ready for the pounding coming during the season's final two months.

"He'd been telling me, 'If I'm ever on second base, just get a hit and I'll take it from there,'" Swisher said. "And I'll be damned if he didn't back it up. It was kind of funny to see him do it, but that tells you he's ready to go. We've got a healthy Hall of Famer ready to put us on his big back."

It was in issue of confidence for Thomas, too. But not his own.

"I was happy to get a head start," Thomas said with a laugh, "because that was important. I wanted to score for Swish because we need him down the stretch. He's one of the big bats in our lineup, and RBIs lead to confidence. ... I wanted that for him more than for me. It was nice."

The last three innings in the field were anything but for the A's, who needed closer Huston Street to pick up the final five outs to hold off the opportunistic Mariners, but in the end it went in the books as Oakland's 12th consecutive victory over Seattle since losing here April 6.

The A's led 6-2 in the fifth, 6-3 in the seventh and 7-4 in the eighth, but the Mariners kept chipping away, and they had the tying run at second base with two out in the ninth before Street wrapped up a 5-1 road trip by striking out Willie Bloomquist.

"It's not good to lose 12 of 13 against these guys, but what can you do now?" Bloomquist said. "The weekend didn't pan out the way we wanted it to, but we know we can compete against these guys. They've just got the better of us."

Jay Payton went 3-for-5 for the A's, who won for the ninth time in 11 games, extended its winning streak to four games and moved a season-high nine games over .500 (60-51), and maintained their three-game lead over the Angels in the American League West while pushing the Rangers (4 1/2) and Mariners (6 1/2) another game off the pace.

"We just ran into a wall," Seattle designated hitter Eduardo Perez said. "Right now, they have done everything well. It's not to say they're better than us. But it's frustrating when you lose a series like this."

A's starter Joe Blanton (12-9) ran into trouble right away, giving up a leadoff double to Ichiro Suzuki in the first, and consecutive RBI singles to Raul Ibanez and Richie Sexson with two outs. Ben Broussard then singled Sexson to second, but right fielder Milton Bradley did Blanton a huge favor when he scooped up Kenji Johima's single and gunned down Sexson at the plate to end the inning.

"It was big. Really big," Blanton said. "Four hits in a row, five in the inning ... It could have been a lot worse, but Milton picked me up. I needed that big time."

The A's got those runs back and more in the third off Seattle starter Gil Meche (9-6), who walked Jason Kendall and gave up a single to Mark Kotsay before making a big mistake to the Big Hurt.

After Meche threw two big breaking balls for called strikes, he tried to blow a 95-mph fastball past the big man at neck level. Thomas jumped all over it, launching it into the upper deck in left field for his team-high 24th homer of the year.

It was the 472nd home run of Thomas' career, and his run-scoring single in the fifth gave him 1,532 career RBIs, good for 40th on the all-time list, behind Joe DiMaggio's 1,537.

"He threw two incredible curveballs before that, but he set my eye level up there," Thomas said. "Fortunately I got a fastball I could handle."

"That," said A's manager Ken Macha, "was pretty impressive."

As was Blanton's recovery from his rocky first frame. His only perfect inning came in the second, and he gave up a two-out RBI double by Sexson in the fifth. He lasted long enough to post his third consecutive quality start (he has eight in his past 11 outings) and pulled into a tie with All-Star lefty Barry Zito for the team lead in victories.

"He was up in the zone in the first inning," Macha said of Blanton, who gave up three runs on 10 hits and a walk with three strikeouts in six innings. "But he settled down and got us to the seventh. He did a good job."

It got sticky for the A's after Blanton bowed out. Kiko Calero came on the start the bottom of the seventh and retired the only two batters he faced before being lifted for lefty Brad Halsey, who was brought on to face lefty-swinging Ibanez despite Halsey's .310 opponents' batting average against lefties this season.

Calero's OBA vs. lefties is .236. Halsey walked Ibanez and Sexson.

In his office after the game, Macha pulled out a statistical printout to justify his decision. It showed that while Calero's OBA is impressive against lefties, he'd issued 11 walks in 54 at-bats against them this year, opposed to eight walks in 105 at-bats against righties.

"As it turned out, I probably should have left [Calero] in," Macha said with a shrug and a road-weary smile. "We ended up walking the guys anyway."

After those walks, Justin Duchscherer came on to face right-handed pinch hitter Eduardo Perez, who cut the lead to two runs with a single to left.

Duchscherer escaped further damage by getting Johima to fly out, and Swisher got the run right back by leading off the eighth with his 23rd homer of the year, but the M's wouldn't go away.

Broken-bat singles by Yuniesky Betancourt and Willie Bloomquist to open the bottom of the eighth put Duchscherer on the ropes, and after striking out Ichiro, Jose Lopez chopped a ball back up the middle -- Lopez's bat was broken, too -- that went for an infield single off Duchscherer's glove to load the bases.

"I was [upset,]" Duchscherer admitted. "I can't tell you how many times I've watched SportsCenter and seen pitchers miss over the middle of the plate and get guys to pop up. I was making some good pitches, and they just kept getting hits.

"It was frustrating, and what really made me mad is that we've been using Huston a lot lately, and I really wanted to get through the eighth to give him a break. ... It was just one of those days."

So in came Street, who gave up a popped single to left by Adrian Beltre that left fielder Bobby Kielty lost in the sun, cutting the lead to two. Ibanez then hit a sharp grounder to first baseman Swisher, who threw to second in an effort to start an inning-ending double play that was broken up by a hard and late slide from Beltre. The slide prevented shortstop Marco Scutaro from making a throw and prompted Macha to spring onto the field to protest.

"Afterward I asked Scoot, and he said it was a good slide," Macha said. "I needed the exercise, anyway. I didn't get my workout this morning."

A wild pitch moved Ibanez to second before Street froze Sexson with a full-count slider to end the inning.

"I was trying to get a ground ball," Street said. "It was a close pitch, and the call went my way."

With two out in the ninth, Betancourt popped a single into shallow right field that second baseman Mark Ellis lost in the sun, and Betancourt stole second to bring the potential winning run to the plate before Street fanned Bloomquist to finish off his seventh save in seven chances against Seattle this season.

"A lot of strange stuff going on out there today," Payton said. "But hey, a win's a win. We'll take it."

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