Athletics 2, Angels 1

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels have combined to win the last five AL West titles. Their head-to-head meetings have become predictable—close, low-scoring, with every pitch possibly deciding the outcome.

Sunday was no different. Shannon Stewart and Nick Swisher hit RBI doubles and Joe Blanton beat the Angels for the first time in seven decisions as Oakland scratched out a 2-1 victory to earn a split of the four-game series.

“I don’t think they like us, and we don’t like them too much,” A’s outfielder Milton Bradley said. “We’re all out there, high-energy, focused and battling. It’s almost like winning twice when you beat the Angels. So it felt good to come out here and salvage a split. There weren’t a lot of runs scored the last few days because there was a lot of good pitching.”

Blanton (1-0) allowed a run and five hits in 5 1-3 innings, ending his drought against the Angels just two days after teammate Joe Kennedy fell to 0-9 lifetime against them.

Two seasons ago, Blanton recorded his first two complete games—both road losses to the Angels. The first one resulted in a 1-0 defeat, the second was a 2-1 setback in which he struck out 10 batters—still a career high. Last year, he lost all three starts against them and had a 1.86 ERA, which included two relief appearances.

“I don’t look at it as wins and losses,” Blanton said. “I just go out and pitch, and all you can do is what you can do. I mean, you can have a 6.00 ERA against one team and be 7-1, then have a 2-something and be 0-6. So sometimes in those cases, numbers are very overrated.”

Blanton struck out two, walked two and stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings. The right-hander retired Angels career RBI leader Garret Anderson to end the first and third, and No. 9 hitter Erick Aybar to end the second and fourth.

“You just try to make quality pitches, stay relaxed, focus in on the hitter and not try to do too much—because that’s when you make mistakes,” Blanton said. “I just came at Anderson with some breaking stuff, tried to keep it away from him as much as possible and keep him off-balance. That guy’s a strong hitter with a lot of power, and if you miss it over the plate, he’s going to hurt you.”

Kelvim Escobar (1-1) was charged with two runs and eight hits over six innings. He struck out five and walked one. The right-hander’s second start of the season was a microcosm of his 2006 campaign, when he finished 11-14 and got no more than three runs of support in 11 of his losses.

“I’m very pleased about the way I threw today because I did my job and did what you want as a starter,” Escobar said. “I kept the team in the ballgame and gave us a chance to win. But it didn’t happen. I feel bad because we had a chance to score some runs, but there’s nothing you can do about it except to keep working hard.”

The Oakland bullpen retired the final 11 Angels batters in order. Huston Street, the fifth A’s pitcher, got three outs for his second save. This was the 21st one-run game between the teams during their last 42 meetings.

“We have a lot of respect for those guys and we always have good battles with them,” the Angels’ Robb Quinlan said. “It seems like every game comes down to one-run or two-run games. They always have a lot of good players who find ways to win.”

Jason Kendall stole his first two bases of the season on his first two attempts—the second one coming right before Stewart drove him home in the third with the game’s first run.

Singles by Mike Piazza and Eric Chavez gave the A’s runners at the corners with none out in the fourth, and Swisher followed with an RBI double for a 2-0 lead. A chat with new Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher seemed to do the trick for Escobar, who retired the bottom third of Oakland’s lineup in order and allowed only two more hits.

“I know that in Kelvim’s time here, working with Buddy Black and now with Butch, I think the adjustments that he can make on the mound are coming sooner in games,” manager Mike Scioscia said.

The Angels trimmed Oakland’s lead to 2-1 in the sixth with an RBI infield single by Maicer Izturis against Alan Embree. Shortstop Bobby Crosby went into the hole to backhand Izturis’ grounder, but his throw to third base was too late to get Casey Kotchman as Anderson scored. Kotchman was stranded when Embree struck out Mike Napoli and Quinlan, who pinch-hit for Aybar.

Notes

Kendall was 11-for-16 on stolen-base attempts last year, and has a .688-percent success rate over his 11-plus big league seasons (161-for-234). … Piazza was 3-for-4. He finished the series 10-for-16 with one RBI—a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning Thursday night—after going 1-for-12 in Oakland’s season-opening series against Seattle. … Angels RF Vladimir Guerrero was 0-for-4, his first hitless game of the year and his first game without an RBI. He was 5-for-14 in the series with two homers, five RBIs and no walks.

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