Athletics 5, Tigers 2

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—As Kirk Saarloos finished off a complete game victory over Detroit, the crowd in Oakland started chanting his name.

Not a bad reaction for a pitcher who had to battle to make the rotation as a fifth starter out of spring training but has turned into a reliable mainstay.

Saarloos lost a shutout bid with two outs in the ninth inning but stayed on to finish off a sweep of the Tigers and give the Athletics a 5-2 victory Sunday for their 11th win in 12 games.

“That was cool. I never heard that before,” Saarloos said. “I wish it would have ended differently, but a win’s a win.”

Winning has been about all the A’s have been doing of late, getting home runs from Nick Swisher and Jay Payton to earn their 31st victory in 38 games and enter August leading the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games over the New York Yankees.

After going 19-8 in June to overcome a slow start to the season, the A’s did even better in July, tying an Oakland record set in 1974 with 20 wins in the month. The A’s have shaved 11 games off the Angels’ lead in the AL West and trail by only 1 1/2 games—the closest they’ve been since after games of May 1.

“Let’s face it, they are better than us right now,” Tigers manager Alan Trammell said. “They’re probably better than anybody right now.”

Detroit was swept in a series of at least three games in Oakland for the first time since 1994 and finished 1-5 on a West Coast trip, falling four games under .500. With their playoff chances dwindling, the Tigers traded closer Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta before the game.

Not even the return of their ace, Jeremy Bonderman, could stop the slide. Bonderman (13-7), coming off a five-game suspension for his role in a brawl July 17 against Kansas City, allowed four runs, eight hits and four walks in six-plus innings.

After A’s starters allowed at least 10 hits in three straight games for the first time since 1982, it was their fifth starter who delivered with the strong start. Saarloos (7-6) was a model of efficiency.

Magglio Ordonez’s two-run homer with two outs in the ninth was the only blemish of the day as Saarloos allowed seven hits and one walk in a 102-pitch outing.

Saarloos slowed down the team that entered the game leading the AL in average in July and had pounded out 22 hits the previous two days against Rich Harden and Barry Zito.

“I knew they were good if they could hit those guys,” Saarloos said. “I just saw that they were really aggressive, which I didn’t mind. So I wanted to keep the ball down and use that against them.”

Saarloos was helped out by an unusual 9-6-3 double play when Ivan Rodriguez did not run out a ball. With Dmitri Young on first and no outs in the fifth, Rodriguez hit a sinking liner to right field. Swisher tried to make a sliding catch but the ball popped out and first-base umpire Rick Reed signaled safe.

Young was caught between first and second and Swisher threw to shortstop Bobby Crosby for the force at second. Rodriguez stopped running halfway to first and had his hands on his hips when Crosby threw to Dan Johnson at first to complete the double play.

It was a tough series for Rodriguez, who was ejected in the fourth inning Saturday and could face a suspension after making contact with the umpire and throwing his equipment.

“They just made a nice play,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t see the ball drop to the ground. The umpire raised his hands up and I just stopped. I saw the ball in his glove. I thought it was caught.”

Saarloos got more help with runners on first and third and no outs in the sixth. Carlos Guillen hit a liner right to Johnson, who stepped on first for the double play. Chris Shelton grounded out to end the threat.

The A’s improved to 11-7 in games started by Saarloos.

“From spring training until now, he’s had the best stuff out of anybody,” A’s third baseman Eric Chavez said. “He’s not a No. 5 starter. The way the guys we have are throwing, we have a bunch of No. 1s, No. 2s, and No. 3s.”

Crosby drew a pair of walks off Bonderman and scored both times for Oakland — on an RBI double by Chavez in the first and a bases-loaded walk by Swisher in the fourth.

Swisher led off the third with a solo homer, his 15th, and Oakland added a fourth run when Johnson doubled and scored on a groundout by Scott Hatteberg in the sixth.

Notes

Bonderman, a former A’s prospect, fell to 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA in his career against Oakland. … The only other time Oakland starters have allowed at least 10 hits in three straight games was Aug. 28-30, 1982, when Rick Langford, Mike Norris and Matt Keough did it. … Swisher dropped a foul fly for an error in the eighth, ending Oakland’s season-high seven-game errorless streak.

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