Thomas puts the Big Hurt on Twins

Thomas puts the Big Hurt on Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Frank Thomas hit a home run on Opening Day in his first at-bat with the Oakland Athletics.

He hit one in his first at-bat on his return to Chicago against his former White Sox teammates. He even went deep on Frank Thomas Bobblehead Day and Frank Thomas Mask Day in Oakland.

His flair for the dramatic continued on a Tuesday afternoon when the 38-year-old designated hitter became the oldest player in Major League history to hit two home runs in a postseason game.

Thomas went deep not only in the second inning but in the ninth inning as well, two huge home runs that supported the pitching of Barry Zito and carried the Athletics to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at the Metrodome.

"I just came to play," Thomas said. "I've been locked in all year. I'm happy to be back, that hunger and drive is back. I'm just happy to be with a new team and new teammates and have a chance to do something special."

Thomas' power allowed the A's to hand Twins starter Johan Santana his first loss at the Metrodome since the Athletics beat him on Aug. 1, 2005, 24 starts ago.

"I don't know about a flair for the dramatic, I just think he's going out there and doing a job," Oakland first baseman Nick Swisher said. "He just wants to let people know all that talk about how he's been forgotten is a bunch of. ... He's been doing it all year. He has been doing it for 14 or 15 years."

Thomas seemed forgotten because he had to sit on the side for most of last year with a fractured left foot and was only a spectator in the playoffs as the White Sox marched to a World Series title.

The Athletics signed him over the winter to a one-year, $500,000 contract with $2.6 million in incentives, and he has been worth every coin, hitting .270 with 39 home runs and 114 RBIs.

"Really, all 30 teams could have had him," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "We signed him to a minimal contract and it's probably because people were scared of his physical conditioning.

"We knew he hit 12 home runs last year in a little over 100 at-bats, and he can hit with power, but he has done a tremendous job rehabbing his foot. If you are going to win something, you better have that impact bat in the lineup, and that guy definitely provided it for us."

He did so on Tuesday even though the Athletics first three hitters were a combined 1-for-12 and Thomas, batting in the cleanup spot, ended up leading off an inning in all four of his at-bats.

That may have worked in his favor.

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"We never got a chance to pitch around him that much," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We know Frank is going to swing like that. You've got to make pitches as best you can. If you have the opportunity to pitch around him, you do that."

Santana had that chance when Thomas came to bat in the second inning. Santana fell behind 3-and-1 in the count but did not want to walk the leadoff hitter. So he threw a changeup -- his best pitch -- and Thomas pulled it into the left-field seats to give the Athletics a 1-0 lead.

"The only way he wouldn't hit the ball is if I wouldn't throw the ball," Santana said. "We fall behind in the count and that's what happened when you do, you become more vulnerable to give up big hits, especially with the type of guy he is. He's a great player. He's swinging the bat well."

Thomas, who came into the game 6-for-16 with two home runs off Santana, said he wasn't expecting the Twins left-hander to pitch around him.

"He is going to challenge everybody," Thomas said. "He is that good. I knew he was going to challenge me. He has challenged me for the last four or so years."

Santana was gone after eight innings and the Twins, down 2-1, brought in right-hander Jesse Crain to face Thomas in the ninth. This time, Thomas hit a sinker into the left-field seats for his second home run, giving Oakland a two-run cushion.

"That was awesome," outfielder Mark Kotsay said. "That was a big lift for us emotionally. Frank has been doing it time and time again for this team."

The second home run proved crucial when Michael Cuddyer led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple against Oakland closer Huston Street and scored on Torii Hunter's one-out grounder. But Rondell White flied out to end the game and the ninth-inning home run stood out as the difference in Game 1.

"Frank Thomas, Comeback Player of the Year," Hunter said. "It was the 'Frank Thomas Show' today. He put the hurt on us; that's why his [nick]name is the Big Hurt."

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