For someone who was stuck in bed last weekend, unable to swallow food with a throat infection, Thames played a pivotal role in putting the life back in Detroit's postseason hopes. But Thames' season as a whole has been about overachieving for a former Minor League journeyman who was once a Yankees prospect.
"Every time I come here, I want to do something," said Thames, whose three-hit, two-run afternoon produced half the Tigers' scoring in their 4-3 win on Thursday in Game 2 of their American League Division Series. "I was drafted by the Yankees. I had my first Major League hit here. Every time I come here, I want to do something."
His first big-league hit is still a little part of Yankees lore, a two-run homer in his first Major League at-bat off then-Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson on June 10, 2002. A year later, almost to the day, Thames was out of the organization, dealt to Texas for Ruben Sierra. A few months after that, he was out of Rangers system, signing with the Tigers as a Minor League free agent.
He split the next two years between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit before a plug from a Mud Hens season-ticket holder got him in with the new Tigers manager.
"Marcus Thames was a guy who was up here, didn't get to play that much, maybe get an at-bat here or there," Jim Leyland said. "Then he'd get sent down, go to Toledo and do very well because he was playing all the time. It's kind of a funny story: My brother, [Larry], goes to every Toledo game, and he told me in the offseason, 'If you give this guy 400 or 500 at-bats, he's probably going to hit you 30 home runs.' So I kind of took my brother's advice, and at the end of Spring Training, we had a spot, and I took Marcus."
Leyland wanted to give Thames a chance, once and for all, to show what he could do with enough playing time. He fell short of 400 at-bats, but Leyland fulfilled his hope of keeping Thames up the entire season. With Thames now the everyday designated hitter because Matt Stairs is ineligible, he returned the trust on Thursday.
After Craig Monroe's two-out double extended the second inning, Thames lined the first pitch he saw from Yankees starter Mike Mussina into center field, plating Monroe and converting the early chance with a runner in scoring position, a situation in which the Tigers faltered in Tuesday's Game 1.
Next time up, Thames hit another liner, this one a seeing-eye leadoff double inside the left-field line. He advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Curtis Granderson lined out to center. It came a half-inning after Johnny Damon's three-run homer gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
"That was big," first baseman Sean Casey said. "I think to come back, get that run and make it 3-2 kind of answered back. It said we're going to get back in this game."
Once the Tigers were back tied, another leadoff single from Thames helped to pull them ahead. A passed ball and a sacrifice bunt later, he was on third when Granderson's triple let him trot home.
All three of Thames' hits were off Mussina, against whom he had been 3-for-4 in regular-season play. All three hits on Thursday were on first pitches.
"I just try to be aggressive against him," Thames said.
Thames no longer has to worry about proving himself with every hit, yet he's racking them up at a crucial time.
He leaves his first two postseason games 4-for-8, giving the Yankees something else to remember him by. It's the least he can do, considering he has plenty for which to remember them.
"It's exciting to be in the postseason playing against them," Thames admitted. "Watching them go to the playoffs and win championships all the time and wanting to be a part of that, I wasn't. Now, being part of the Tigers vs. the Yankees, it's been an awesome feeling so far."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.