Athletics 6, Devil Rays 3

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Joe Blanton isn’t concentrating on his rapidly improving record. He just wants to give Oakland a chance to win.

Blanton pitched 6 1-3 strong innings and the Athletics took advantage of Casey Fossum’s wildness to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 6-3 Saturday for their eighth victory in nine games.

Jason Kendall drove in two runs for Oakland, which improved to 19-9 since the All-Star break—the best record in the majors. Huston Street pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 35 chances and sixth in a row.

Blanton (13-9) won for the fifth time in six starts to take over the team lead in wins, breaking a tie with Barry Zito. Oakland extended its lead in the AL West to a season-high 4 1/2 games over the Los Angeles Angels.

“It’s nice but I feel like wins can go either way,” Blanton said. “You can pitch poorly and still win, or pitch well and lose. The big thing is to try and let the offense strike first and then keep your team in the game. I try to keep hitters off balance as much as possible. It’s a big part of my game.”

A’s manager Ken Macha said he thought Blanton had his best curveball of the season.

“He got strikeouts with it,” Macha said. “It was really biting tonight. He made some great pitches with guys on base.”

Greg Norton hit a two-run homer for the Devil Rays, who lost their fifth straight and fell to 1-14 on the road since the break.

Fossum (6-5) walked five in Oakland’s five-run second inning, two with the bases loaded. The left-hander, who failed to make it out of the second for the second time in four starts, had not allowed an earned run in his previous 14 innings.

“I couldn’t throw strikes,” Fossum said. “I just kept falling behind everybody. I felt like I was slow in getting loose.”

Fossum tied a team record for walks in an inning. The major league mark is eight, held by Washington’s Bill Gray in the second inning of a game on Aug. 28, 1909.

“Our patience at the plate was helpful,” Macha said. “You just want to make sure you have an idea of what you want to swing at. If you’re not patient you don’t necessarily swing at pitches in your hitting area.”

Fossum’s road ERA ballooned to 7.10 and opponents are hitting .326, compared to 3.29 and .216 at home. He allowed five runs and five hits with the five walks in his 1 2-3 innings. He struck out one.

“I thought he had good stuff,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He was just missing with his pitches and he got himself into some trouble.”

Eric Chavez singled and Jay Payton walked in the second. With one out, Marco Scutaro singled home a run and Jason Kendall hit a two-run homer. Walks to Mark Ellis and Bobby Kielty loaded the bases and Milton Bradley drew a full-count walk to force in a run. After Frank Thomas popped up, Chavez walked to force in the final run and end Fossum’s night after 56 pitches.

“It looks like we put together some good at-bats, really,” Chavez said. “We weren’t swinging at his balls and we were pretty patient; especially with men on base. It was tough to see so you have to give credit to our hitters for staying off some pitches.”

Lee doubled in Norton in the sixth and B.J. Upton walked with two outs but Blanton got Ben Zobrist to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. Blanton allowed two runs and eight hits.

“The whole pitching staff has been outstanding and Joe is right in the middle of that,” Chavez said. “He mixes it up and his curveball keeps them pretty honest. We know if we pitch and play defense we’ve got a shot.”

Ruddy Lugo replaced Fossum for the Devil Rays and matched a career high with 3 1-3 innings of scoreless relief. He struck out three, one off his career best.

Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford ended an 0-for-12 streak with his third-inning single and avoided going hitless in four consecutive starts for the first time since Aug. 14-18, 2004.

Ellis singled home a run in the seventh for the A’s.

Notes

Fossum’s five walks tied his season high and fell one short of his career high. … A’s LHP Joe Kennedy is expected to be activated from the DL on Monday. … Lee’s sixth-inning double was just his sixth hit (in 55 chances) with runners in scoring position. … Thomas was in the lineup for the 38th consecutive game, his longest streak since a 38-game stretch between Aug. 17-Sept. 27, 2003. … Devil Rays OF Rocco Baldelli and Norton are scheduled to sit out Sunday’s season finale. … The A’s big second was their largest since also scoring five in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers on July 22.

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