OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland A's held a two-run lead in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon with closer Grant Balfour on the mound against the Los Angeles Angels.
The first-place A's were three outs away from taking another big step in their quest for back-to-back American League West titles.
Josh Hamilton and the Angels had other ideas.
Hamilton launched a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth, then hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in 11th, lifting the Angels to a 5-4 victory.
Hamilton was hitting just .217 on Aug. 7, but he's raised his average to .245 over the past 36 games with five home runs, 21 RBIs, 10 doubles and two triples during that stretch.
"I think it's really important because no matter what level guys are in their career, how much talent they have, there's always going to be confidence issues that will carry over from week to week, month to month, and there's no doubt in the first half of the season Josh was searching hard for a lot of things," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And we've seen a lot of them come together in the last month. I hope that has the impact on Josh for his confidence that it should."
Leading off the top of the 11th, J.B. Shuck ripped a double off the base of the right field wall against A's right-hander Jesse Chavez (2-4). Erick Aybar moved Shuck to third with a sacrifice bunt and reached safely when baseman Josh Donaldson couldn't bare-hand the ball and was charged with an error.
"I felt like I came in a little too aggressively," Donaldson said. "My legs weren't really under me. That's one of those plays I really expect to make every time."
Chavez retired Mike Trout on a fly ball to right, but Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to deep left off left-hander Jerry Blevins on an 0-2 pitch, bringing Shuck home with the go-ahead run. On Tuesday, Blevins struck out Hamilton with the bases loaded in the seventh inning on a 3-2 curve in a 2-1 A's win.
"Obviously he's going to throw me off-speed and try every once in a while to sneak a heater in," Hamilton said. "The thing is he's got a really slow curveball, and he throws it anywhere from 80 (mph) to 70. I swung through that second curve, and it was 73. So I figured he might try to throw me one a little bit slower. So I wasn't trying to do anything at all with it besides get it to the outfield."
The Angels won the series, taking two of three, and the Athletics' magic number to win the American League West remained at six.
"We've had tough losses and dramatic wins," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "You just put this away and come back expecting to win."
The Angels and A's combined to hit four two-run homers. Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes each hit a two-run homer for Oakland, while Trout and Hamilton hit two-run blasts for Los Angeles.
Balfour entered with a 4-2 advantage. Aybar grounded a leadoff single to left, and with one out, Hamilton launched a two-run homer into the right field seats to pull the Angels even. The home run, on an 0-1 fastball, was Hamilton's 21st of the season.
"Obviously he's got a great slider, and he's got a little zip on his fastball," Hamilton said. "Maybe he felt like he kind of got it by me, so he tried to do it again. Kind of the same pitch, a heater. I was fortunate enough to barrel it up."
Balfour blew his third save in 41 opportunities. He had not allowed a run in his past three outings after giving up seven in his previous six.
"He's had a great year if you look at it overall," Melvin said of Balfour. "Three blown saves is going to do it anywhere. He had good stuff today. He got one fastball not to the right spot against a pretty good fastball hitter."
Angels right-hander Ernesto Frieri pitched a scoreless 11th for his 35th save. Right-hander J.C. Gutierrez (1-4) got the win, pitching a scoreless 10th.
Oakland right-hander A.J. Griffin appeared headed for his fifth straight win before Hamilton struck in the ninth. Griffin gave up a two-run shot to Trout in the first. That was the first and last hit Griffin allowed in his six-inning outing. He got a no-decision, but his four-game winning streak survived. Griffin struck out six and walked two.
Cespedes and Crisp slugged two-run homers during a four-run rally in the third inning off Angels left-hander Jason Vargas as the A's took a 4-2 lead. Josh Reddick led off with a single, and Crisp lined a home run, his career-high 20th, over the left field wall with one out.
After Jed Lowrie lined a two-out single, Cespedes crushed a home run to center, his career-high 24th of the season.
Vargas allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings, getting a no-decision. He struck out six, walked two and blanked the A's for three innings after the third.
Shuck led off the game with a walk, and Trout hit his 26th blast of the year with one out. Trout homered for the third straight game against the A's, giving him five home runs and 15 RBIs at Oakland this season. The three-game homer streak is the longest of his young career.
NOTES: Cespedes (right shoulder tendinitis) started at designated hitter for the third straight day and continued to rest his throwing arm. Melvin said Cespedes potentially could receive a cortisone injection. ... Trout's home run was the 35th Griffin has allowed this season, the most in the majors.