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Santana Reels In Athletics a Bit Closer

Times Staff Writer

The Angels aren’t exactly fitting themselves for championship rings just yet. They’re not a first-place team yet, or even a .500 team.

But they’re close on both counts, after three victories in four games against a team that is in first place. With Ervin Santana, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez combining for a five-hitter, the Angels beat the Oakland Athletics, 4-2, Sunday. The Angels won the division on this field in each of the last two seasons, so Santana scoffed at the notion that they needed to send the A’s a message.

“We don’t have to send a message to anybody,” Santana said. “We just have to play baseball.”

They did that with style, completing a 6-1 trip that moved them to within two games of first place -- and to within two games of .500 -- for the first time since May 1. They’re 26-17 since May 22, by far the best record in the American League West in that time.

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“To be honest with you, I think we can pull away,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got the material. Our offense has started to come alive. Our starting pitching has been terrific. The bullpen has been pretty good.

“I think we’re going to pull this out.”

In winning eight of nine games, the Angels cut five games from their deficit. The A’s, meanwhile, have lost nine of 13, falling into a first-place tie with the Texas Rangers.

“I’m surprised we’re in first place,” Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez said. “You hate to lose as many games as we did the last week and a half, but when you’re in first place, you can’t complain.”

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The A’s and Rangers lead the Angels by two games and the Seattle Mariners by 2 1/2 . The Angels and A’s settled the division by themselves the last two seasons, and they end this season with three games in Anaheim.

So do the Angels consider this another race with Oakland?

“I think we’ll both definitely be there,” second baseman Adam Kennedy said. “To say it’s not going to include one of the other teams is premature. The other teams are definitely playing well.”

Said Shields: “It’s going to come down to the end. Hopefully, we’re one of the teams it comes down to. The last few years, it’s come down to us and the A’s, but the Mariners and Rangers are good too.”

The Angels looked good Sunday, with Santana scattering five hits over seven innings and giving up one earned run. In his last inning, the admittedly generous stadium radar gun had him at 97 mph.

Bartolo Colon last year became the Angels’ first 20-game winner since Nolan Ryan in 1974. Santana might win 20 this year. He’s 10-3 this season and 19-7 since last year’s All-Star break, and he won his sixth consecutive decision Sunday.

“That was one of my goals in the first half, to win 10 games,” Santana said.

And is his goal to win 10 games in the second half too?

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“I don’t know yet,” he said, smiling.

Shields struck out two in a perfect eighth inning and Rodriguez one in a perfect ninth, for his 21st save. Kendry Morales ended a 2-2 tie with a two-run triple in the sixth inning, Jose Molina hit a home run, and Juan Rivera threw a runner out at the plate. Garret Anderson singled twice and walked as the designated hitter after sitting out two games because of a tight hamstring.

The Angels outhit the A’s in the series, 41-22, and out-homered them, 9-3, yet the most pleasant statistic on this trip is this one: 0.95. That’s the earned-run average of the starters on the last turn through the rotation, including shutouts by Colon and John Lackey.

Said Shields: “We’re playing the Angel baseball we’re used to.”


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