Athletics 3, Indians 1

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—The Cleveland Indians and the Coliseum fans learned what the Athletics already knew: Rookie Rich Harden seems ready to turn Oakland’s Big Three into a fantastic foursome.

Harden struck out nine in seven scoreless innings, leading the A’s to a 3-1 victory Thursday in a spectacular home debut for the 21-year-old Canadian right-hander.

Harden (2-0) allowed three hits and four walks while carving up the Indians’ lineup—and striking out eight of nine hitters at one point. The Coliseum crowd gave several standing ovations to Harden, who has lived up to his hype as one of the best prospects in baseball.

With AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson all in the midst of strong seasons, the A’s have no shortage of outstanding pitching. But in his first three major league starts, Harden has been even more dominating than his talented young teammates, allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings while striking out 16 batters.

“Being up here, I’ve realized there’s not too much of a difference,” said Harden, who began the season by retiring 39 straight hitters with Double-A Midland before becoming a PCL All-Star at Triple-A Sacramento.

“If I throw strikes, it’s going to be fine. It’s mostly the off-the-field stuff that’s been an adjustment. … We have some early wake-up calls in the minors, so it’s nice to hop on a private jet.”

Miguel Tejada had a two-run single and Eric Chavez homered for the A’s, who won for the eighth time in 11 games and took two of three from Cleveland.

Starting with a four-pitch first inning, Harden was in complete control— even though he said his fastball wasn’t nearly as good as it can be. With breaking pitches that seemed to fall off a table, he overwhelmed Cleveland from the second to the fifth innings, striking out every batter in the lineup except Coco Crisp.

“Harden looks like the real thing,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “We helped him by chasing some pitches, but he had good stuff. He was able to go down and away with power. With that, he can move the ball up in the zone, too. Even his secondary stuff isn’t bad, especially for such a young pitcher.”

Two Indians reached base in the seventh during Cleveland’s only attempt at a rally, but Harden escaped the jam.

“When they get guys in scoring position, he’s got a little extra gear to go back and get a strikeout for you,” A’s manager Ken Macha said. “When a guy’s pitching like that, you let him go. You don’t want to over-coach him. It was a tremendous display.”

Chad Bradford lost the shutout on Milton Bradley’s RBI double in the eighth, and Keith Foulke pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 32 chances.

Jake Westbrook (4-6) allowed four hits, four walks and three runs for Cleveland. He couldn’t escape a fifth-inning jam capped by Tejada’s bases-loaded single.

“My counts got me into trouble all day,” Westbrook said. “I need to make those adjustments to keep them low. I just made too many pitches in those five innings.”

Harden got a no-decision and an easy victory in his first two road starts in the majors, where he has shown a grace and poise that don’t add up for a 17th-round draft pick who didn’t seriously begin pitching until junior college.

“I didn’t even really have my good fastball today,” Harden said. “There were a few times when I was trying to get a little too fine, and I missed my spots. It’s a good experience to have to make some adjustments.”

Harden’s development was one reason the A’s were able to trade right-hander Aaron Harang to the Reds on Wednesday in a package for outfielder Jose Guillen. Guillen arrived in the A’s dugout during the third inning. He shook hands with most of the A’s and chatted with third-base coach Ron Washington.

When Tejada came into the dugout, he hugged Guillen. The players are from the same area of the Dominican Republic.

Guillen did not play against the Indians. He is expected to start for the A’s on Friday in the opener of a three-game series against the New YorkYankees.


Guillen will wear No. 6 for the A’s. … For the second day in a row, a fan charged the field in the eighth inning. He was tackled by five security guards and led away in handcuffs. There have been a series of fan-related incidents at the Coliseum this season, including the apparent beaning of outfielder Carl Everett with a cell phone thrown from the upper deck. … Crisp extended his hitting streak to 13 games when he got the Indians’ first hit inthe third inning.

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