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Harden puts hurtin' on Red Sox

Harden puts hurtin' on Red Sox

OAKLAND -- Looking at a box score showing the results of Friday night's matchup between the A's and Red Sox at McAfee Coliseum, one might think there must be something wrong.

First of all, Boston was on the losing end. That couldn't possibly be true, considering they came into Oakland on a seven-game winning streak while the A's entered the series losers of seven of their last nine games.

On top of that, Rich Harden couldn't possibly have allowed just two runs over six innings. Many probably assumed he shouldn't have even been on the mound considering he's usually either on the disabled list or leaving a game headed to the DL.

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And then there's Frank Thomas. The slugger turns 40 on Tuesday, so it couldn't possibly be true he's still banging out home runs in the same fashion he did 18 years ago at the start of his career.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. Harden looked sharp in his third start since being activated from the DL on May 11, and a two-run homer by Thomas was just one offensive highlights that gave the A's an 8-3 win over the Red Sox in the first of a three-game series.

The A's, who showed signs of breaking out of a prolonged offensive funk when they scored nine runs against the Rays on Wednesday, picked right up where they left things before their off-day with a quick-strike rally against Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

"Balls were hit well tonight," manager Bob Geren said. "When you got Frank and Jack [Cust] in the middle, you start getting long balls."

That's exactly what happened. After Bobby Crosby doubled into the left-field corner with one out in the bottom of the first and scored on a single to right by Cust, Thomas pounded the first pitch he saw from Wakefield over the wall in left for his fourth homer in four games.

Thomas entered the contest 12-for-50 (.240) in his career against Wakefield, but half of the dozen hits had been homers, including two during the Big Hurt's three-homer game for Toronto last Sept. 17.

"I've had a lot of strikeouts against him, too," Thomas said laughing. "Tonight just wasn't his night because of the weather. When you get him in the cold air, you catch the movement and are able to hit off him easier."

Wakefield didn't have much more to say than, "You know the history there."

Friday's bolt was career home run No. 520 for Thomas; he's one from pulling into a tie with Willie McCovey and Ted Williams for 16th on the all-time list. Thomas' next RBI will be the 1,702nd of his career, moving him into a tie with Reggie Jackson for 20th all time.

"For me, it's just another home run," the slugger said. "I want to stay motivated, and for that to happen you have to stay away from looking at the numbers."

Thomas said he's "learned how to train my body" over the years, and he believes he's stronger both mentally and physically than he was as a rookie.

"I work for it," he said. "I want to continue to get better. I played with guys like Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk and looked at what they were able to do late in their careers."

Along with Thomas' dinger, Mark Ellis gave himself a welcome-back present by hitting his fourth home run of the season after being out of the lineup for 11 days.

"It's always good having Elly back," Thomas said. "He's definitely missed when he's out of the lineup."

The offensive outburst allowed Harden to relax, but the right-hander showed no signs of needing as much help as he was given. In his fifth start of the season, Harden scattered four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts while allowing the two Boston runs.

"He was throwing a great fastball and really got the changeup working," Geren said. "He got a lot of swings and misses."

Seeing seven runs on the board before the end of the third inning was a refreshing sight for Harden, who did not allow a run April 2 against Boston but ended up with a no-decision. The righty, facing the Sox for the third time this season, came into the game with a 1-1 record and 7.71 ERA in four career regular-season starts against Boston.

"He has good of stuff as anybody in the American League," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We've seen him too much. We don't need to see him every other game. I hope he's not going to come back and pitch Sunday."

Harden appeared happy with his command and said getting further into games "hopefully comes with more innings."

For now, though, Geren is more than satisfied with his pitcher's progress.

"In his first start back from the DL, he threw well," Geren said. "He's very aggressive and now he's looking like mid-season form."

Jane Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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