Armando Galarraga came within two outs of his first complete game and shutout in the majors, leading the Tigers to a 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night and averting a three-game sweep.
"It was good to hear him tell me I'd be playing more, but I still had to go out there tonight, make sure I stayed focused and did my job," Thames said. "I need to get more at-bats to get going, so hopefully this will get me going. Whenever I get a chance to get in there, I just try to do what I can to help the ballclub."
Leyland, frustrated over his team's recent offensive drought, batted Thames third in place of the injured Gary Sheffield and kept left-handed leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson in the lineup against Saunders.
The plan worked to perfection in the first inning, as Granderson singled and Thames drove a 2-2 pitch to left for his fourth homer. Edgar Renteria capped the three-run rally with an RBI single, matching Detroit's run total for the previous three games following Sunday's 19-3 rout of Minnesota.
"Thames has quietly earned his shot after the last couple of years. He's got enough credibility that he deserves a shot," Leyland said. "He's a power bat. If he gets on a roll and starts hitting three-run homers, it's going to be a big thing for us."
Thames nearly homered his next time up, but hit the ball off the end of his bat and Reggie Willits caught it with his back against the bullpen fence. In the fifth, Thames drove a first-pitch changeup over the center field fence for his fifth homer and a 5-0 lead after a ground-rule double by Placido Polanco.
"He left a couple of pitches out over the plate that I could get extended on," Thames said. "I just try to hit the ball hard. I don't try to hit home runs, even though everybody thinks I'm a home run hitter."
It was the fifth multihomer game for Thames, who has 69 home runs in 1,044 career at-bats, the first one coming on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues - from Randy Johnson on June 10, 2002, at Yankee Stadium.
As far as Granderson staying in there against lefties, Leyland said: "I really like him in the leadoff spot. Last year he was one of the best leadoff men in all of baseball. He's been in a little bit of a funk, but he's a catalyst for us and we've got to get him going.
"We obviously want Curtis to be an everyday player, and he is an everyday player. I mean, if we run into a Randy Johnson or some other dynamite lefty who's real nasty, then I'll rest Grandy."
Granderson missed the first three weeks of the season because of a broken bone in his right hand. He is hitting .248 with six homers and 16 RBIs. Last year he batted a career-high .302 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs. He also became the second player in major league history with at least 30 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season.
"I'm not getting down on Curtis Granderson. I love Curtis Granderson," Leyland said. "I'm just a little worried because I'm wondering if the hand is still bothering him. The trainers say it's not an issue, but I'm suspicious about whether he's 100 percent."
As a result of Thames' increased playing time, the Tigers optioned left fielder Matt Joyce to Triple-A Toledo after the game and recalled outfielder Clete Thomas from the Mud Hens.
Galarraga (4-2) struck out three and walked three while improving his road record to 4-1 in five starts. The right-hander did not allow a runner past first base until the ninth, when he walked Willits with one out and Maicer Izturis followed with a home run on the right-hander's 104th and final pitch. Todd Jones finished up.
Saunders (8-2) gave up a season-high five runs in five innings and seven hits and struck out five. His ERA, which was the third-lowest in the majors when the day began, jumped from 2.31 to 2.76.
"In the first inning I made some good pitches and they put some good swings on them," Saunders said. "I think it was just pitch selection with Thames. They weren't bad pitches, they just weren't the right pitches."
Notes: The Tigers haven't had a complete game this season, and had only one last year - Justin Verlander's no-hitter on June 12 against Milwaukee at Comerica Park. ... Thames was 0-for-3 the only other time he faced Saunders, on Sept. 2, 2006, at Detroit. ... The Tigers have averaged 7.88 runs in Galarraga's eight starts. ... Granderson came in 1-for-6 against left-handers. Last season he hit .160 against them (19-for-119). ... 3B Carlos Guillen, who was limited to a DH role Tuesday night because of a severe case of hemorrhoids, wasn't in Detroit's starting lineup.