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Frank Thomas is greeted in the dugout after his three-run homer during the third inning on Sunday.
OAKLAND — On an almost daily basis, A's manager Ken Macha is asked what impact Frank Thomas has made on this year's team. Macha usually starts his answer with Thomas' performance at Yankee Stadium in early June.

The A's had only five regulars in their lineup, with three backups in the infield, and Thomas hit a second-inning home run off Randy Johnson. The A's won that game.

The next day, Thomas ended an 11-pitch duel against Mike Mussina with a two-run homer, then told his teammates, "We can beat these guys." The A's won the game and swept the series.

That is one series. Many more examples exist.

Such as the July 6 walk-off homer against the Angels' Scot Shields. Eleven of his last 17 home runs have given the A's the lead. Half of his home runs are in his first at-bat, which he said earlier this year was "my thing," because he takes pride in giving the starting pitcher an early lead and putting him at ease.

"A lot of people were wondering, 'Hey, is he going to be able to do it?'" said Nick Swisher, the A's first baseman and arguably Thomas' biggest fan. "Well, there you go, the numbers prove themselves."

Thomas' improvement running the bases has been dramatic. He's still mostly a station-to-station runner. But when he picks the right moment to crank it into another gear, good things happen. In fact, every time Thomas has done something unexpected while running, the A's win.


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- On July 22 at Detroit, he tagged from third with the A's down 5-0, scored the first run, the dugout erupted with emotion, then he did it again to score the go-ahead run, and the A's rallied for a 9-5 win.

- On July 27 against Toronto, his first double in 53 days again energized those in the dugout, earned a standing ovation from the Coliseum crowd, and started a three-run rally when the A's trailed by a run. They won 5-2.

- On Aug. 20 at Kansas City, Thomas scored from first on a double for the first time this year. Jay Payton slowed into second to watch Thomas, calling it a "monumental occasion." The A's scored three in that first inning and won 6-2.

- Three days ago against Boston, Thomas scored from first on a double, firing up the crowd and his teammates, tying the score, and the A's won 2-1.

"I just think the guys are excited to see stuff like that," Thomas said. "It's a spark."

In spring training, Macha was expecting Thomas to be available four days a week this year. Thomas has played in 110 games already, including 54 in a row.

Macha admitted this week he didn't think Thomas would ever score from first on a double.

"There's probably a lot of people, in the middle of May, who didn't think that would happen either," Macha said. "Frank's worked extremely hard. After the game is over, both his feet are dunked in ice for 20 minutes or whatever. It's not pleasant. He does it every night to get himself ready for the next day. It takes a pretty dedicated athlete."

Macha, an Angels coach in 1994, compared Thomas' daily dedication to what he saw Bo Jackson endure each day to get ready to play after his hip replacement.

"He's got some more time left in this game," Macha said. "Some of these balls he's hitting are way out. I look back at the home run he hit off Shields, and it was 96 (mph). A lot of guys get to his age and can't get to the good fastball. He's doing that. He's got a lot left in there, as long as he can keep his foot healthy."

Then there's the impact in the clubhouse and the dugout, providing words of wisdom, especially to Swisher.

"I'm a little biased," Swisher said. "He's helped me out so much this year, the game inside the game, and just going out there to have fun. That's the biggest thing. If you play this game as long as he has, you better still have fun or else you should retire."

Retirement was possible earlier this year. Thomas was hitting .178 after 28 games and recently told The Chicago Tribune, "If I had started that slowly in Chicago, I would have been booed so much that I would have walked away."

But that return home to Chicago in mid-May — when he was given multiple standing ovations, hit two home runs in his first game, and went 4-for-9 with four walks and a hit batter in the series — ignited Thomas.

It's been vintage Thomas ever since. He's hit .302, even without an infield single, over his past 81 games. He's driven in 27 runs in his past 33 games.

Overall, he has 28 homers and 78 RBIs. He won't win the Most Valuable Player award, but he's a legitimate top-five candidate.

"At the start of the season, nobody thought this could happen," Thomas said. "I'm happy to be where I'm at right now."

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