Athletics 7, Rangers 3

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Barry Zito and Ted Lilly have a pact to keep growing their facial hair until the Oakland Athletics are done playing—which they hope is in late October.

A scruffy Zito won his third straight start a day after Lilly led the A’s to victory, and Oakland moved a game closer to clinching the AL West by defeating the Texas Rangers 7-3 on Monday night.

“We’re growing it out until the end of the playoffs to be all scraggly and nasty,” said Zito, who dresses next to Lilly in the Oakland clubhouse. “Go out there and intimidate hitters. Look mean. You feel meaner.”

Eric Chavez homered, doubled and drove in two runs, Miguel Tejada had two hits and three RBIs and Jermaine Dye also homered as the first-place A’s lowered their magic number to win their second straight division title to two.

Any combination of A’s wins and Seattle losses totaling two would give Oakland the division. The A’s could clinch as soon as Tuesday.

“The best case is not to have to win in Seattle,” Chavez said of the A’s weekend series at Safeco Field. “If we win the next two games, it would be nice. We could sit and relax a little bit.”

Zito (14-12) improved to 11-0 in 17 starts against the Rangers, who trail the season series 13-4 and haven’t beaten the A’s since June 25 in Arlington. Zito joined Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson as one of three active pitchers undefeated against one team with a minimum of 10 wins.

“A lot of the outings Zito has against us we’re one batter or one pitch away from getting to him,” Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. “But he gets out of these situations, and that’s a reason why he has that kind of record.”

Zito, who has won three straight starts for the first time since last Sept. 8-18, retired nine of his first 10 batters, allowing just a two-out walk to Shane Spencer in the first three innings. Zito, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, allowed three hits and one unearned run in six innings.

“He’s got an unbelievable curveball,” the Rangers’ Ryan Christenson said. “You’ve got to honor that.”

Chad Bradford pitched two scoreless innings, and Jim Mecir finished the six-hitter, giving up a leadoff homer to Rafael Palmeiro and a sacrifice fly to Jermaine Clark in the eighth.

Jose Guillen, the A’s left fielder who broke a bone in his left hand Sept. 14, returned to the starting lineup and amazed the training staff and his coaches with such a quick recovery.

Guillen has been using padded gloves and has been impressive in batting practice the past few days. He pinch hit Sunday against Seattle, and manager Ken Macha was convinced enough to give him a shot.

Guillen singled to right in his first at-bat to lead off the second, but that was his only hit. He grounded out twice and flied out.

“I’m back, that’s it,” he said. “It’s 110 percent, not 100 percent.”

Texas scored an unearned run in the fifth after Tejada’s errant throw to first allowed Gerald Laird to reach. Michael Young drove in the run with a single up the middle two batters later.

Tony Mounce (1-5) walked Oakland’s first two hitters, then gave up back-to-back doubles to Chavez and Tejada. Chavez’s hit to the wall in right-center scored Mark Ellis for one run, and Tejada brought home Erubiel Durazo and Chavez to make it 3-0.

Mounce allowed five runs and seven hits in three innings, matching his shortest start this season.

Ellis also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth after making an impressive lunging barehanded stop on a blooper by Spencer in the top half of the inning.

“One of the top-10 plays of the year right there,” Zito said.

Zito and Lilly decided to both grow beards after Zito’s Sept. 7 start at Tampa Bay. He got on Lilly’s case Monday when Lilly trimmed his just a bit. Zito noticed.

“I wore on him for that,” Zito said with a smile.

Notes

Martinez is 12-0 against the Mariners and Arizona’s Johnson is 11-0 against the Chicago Cubs. … Texas OF Laynce Nix fouled a ball off his right shin in the seventh and left the game. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and was replaced by Clark, who took ball four and got credit for the walk. … The A’s 13 wins against Texas matches their total from 2002 vs. the Rangers with two meetings left. … Mounce has a three-game losing streak and is 0-3with a 10.55 ERA over his last five starts.

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