Angels 4, Athletics 2
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—The two-time defending division champion Angels are playing better than anyone in the AL West at the All-Star break.
Even if they are two games under .500.
The Angels wrapped up a 6-1 road trip heading into the All-Star break for only their second winning trip this season. This trip included a three-game sweep at Seattle, another first for Los Angeles, followed by three wins in a four-game series against first-place Oakland.
“We’re playing better baseball,” manager Mike Scioscia said of his 43-45 club. “Our goal was not to worry about the schedule or the way we played early in the season. It’s a good time to get a break, especially for the starting pitchers. This will give them time to recharge.”
Jose Molina hit a two-out solo home run for the Angels in the second inning, just the second homer of the year for the catcher. Los Angeles won for the eighth time in nine games to move within two games of first place in the AL West for the first time since May 1.
The A’s lost three straight to their division rival after taking Thursday’s series opener 7-5 on a game-winning home run by Frank Thomas.
Oakland, reeling from injuries to key players throughout the season’s first half, still heads into the break tied with Texas atop the AL West standings, the first time since 1990 that the A’s have been in first place at the midpoint. They held a one-game advantage over Chicago that year.
“Where we are is where we are,” manager Ken Macha said. “It’s better than being 10 games behind.”
Santana (10-4), a 12-game winner last season as a rookie, pitched seven strong innings to improve to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five career starts against the A’s. In his first appearance against them this year, he allowed one earned run and five hits, struck out five and walked three.
“That’s one of my goals in the first half, to win 10 games, so I feel very happy,” Santana said. “I made an adjustment to concentrate more, and keep my focus in keeping the hitters off balance.”
Francisco Rodriguez recorded the final three outs for his 21st save in 23 chances.
Morales tripled to deep left in the sixth after Anderson drew a one-out walk and Juan Rivera followed with a single. Left fielder Nick Swisher slipped and went into the wall trying to make a play. Morales was caught stealing 2-5-1 on a suicide squeeze play moments later.
Dan Haren (6-7) struggled through six innings and watched his winless stretch reach five starts since he beat Seattle on June 14, a stretch with two losses and three no-decisions.
The right-hander allowed four runs and eight hits, struck out three and walked one. He has allowed six home runs in his last five starts, spanning 31 innings.
After Chone Figgins struck out swinging to start the game, Haren allowed three straight singles, including Garret Anderson’s base hit to left to give the Angels a quick lead. Erick Aybar was the lone Angels player without a hit against Haren, but he singled in the ninth off Huston Street.
Oakland scored an unearned run in the bottom half of the first to tie it at 1. Santana walked Thomas with two outs, then shortstop Aybar fielded Jay Payton’s slow-rolling grounder and threw wildly past second into shallow center for an error that allowed Swisher to score.
The Angels have committed 66 errors this year, tied with the Cleveland Indians for most in the American League. Los Angeles had the second-fewest errors in the AL last season with 87.
Scoring runs has been Oakland’s biggest hurdle so far, and the A’s know they need better production down the stretch—not to mention having their key players healthy.
“I think it’s been the whole story,” third baseman Eric Chavez, nursing tendinitis in his forearms, said of the team’s injury problems. “And it’s surprising that we’re in first place. We really can’t complain.”
Figgins stole his 32nd base of the year in the fifth and then his 33rd in the seventh. He has 25 career steals against Oakland—eight this year and five this series—for his most vs. any team. He has four against Cleveland. Figgins went 9-for-18 (.500) with a home run and two RBIs this series and is batting 15-for-37 (.405) on the year vs. Oakland—his second-best average against any club. He is hitting .412 against Detroit. … Haren is 1-3 in four career starts against the Angels. … Santana hasn’t lost since a 7-1 defeat to Minnesota on May 31. … Oakland hitting coach Gerald Perry was ejected Sunday by plate umpire Eric Cooper in the bottom of the seventh for arguing balls and strikes.