A's now two games clear in AL West


OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Power hitting from a backup catcher.
Strong pitching from a spot starter who hadn't won in three months.
Fine defense from a club not known for its glove work.

The Oakland Athletics are finding many unusual ways to make
their usual second-half surge.

Adam Melhuse hit a three-run homer and John Halama pitched into
the seventh inning as the A's won their sixth straight, sweeping
the Baltimore Orioles with a 6-4 victory Thursday.

With slumping Seattle's loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland increased its
lead atop the AL West to two games. Until Wednesday night, the A's
hadn't been alone in first place since April 12 -- but with another
late-season streak from the majors' best post-break club in the
past four years, Oakland is setting the pace again.

"We're playing great baseball," said Halama (3-4), who won for
the first time since May 8. "We're riding a high right now, and if
we can continue to ride this high and put some space between us and
Seattle, we're going to be in great shape.

"I'm sure Seattle is reading the scoreboard or looking at the
newspaper, and they know we're playing good baseball."

Scott Hatteberg homered and Mark Ellis added an RBI triple, and
both players also made several of Oakland's string of good
defensive plays. The A's cruised to their 10th win in 12 games --
and their sixth straight victory over the Orioles, who lost their
fifth straight.

Oakland had a four-run first inning, though the runs came from
unlikely sources. Shortly after Hatteberg hit the first leadoff
homer of his career, Melhuse hit his fourth homer of the season
against Rodrigo Lopez (6-9).

Melhuse, the seldom-used backup to All-Star Ramon Hernandez, has
a hit in every one of his five games in August -- including a
similar homer against Toronto last week.

"As for the power, I don't know how or where that's coming
from," Melhuse said. "But I've been getting into some pretty good
hitters' counts right now, seeing some pitches over the middle of
the plate. I don't get many chances, but anything I can do to help
whenever I'm in there, I'm going to try to do it."

Terrence Long had an RBI single in the third, and Ellis followed
with a triple to the right-center gap.

Halama began the season as the A's fifth starter, but was
banished to the bullpen three months ago. He was resourceful and
consistent -- and very lucky to have Oakland's strong defense behind
him -- in his second spot start in place of 15-game winner Mark
Mulder, who's probably out for the season with a broken leg bone
near his hip.

"Everybody knows that having Mulder out there is a lot better
than myself, but I've just got to go out there and make a good
effort and try to keep up in games," Halama said. I just tried to
locate the ball down in the zone and let them get themselves out
with ground balls."

After a rocky first inning, Halama held the Orioles to six hits
and two runs while surviving through 6 2-3 innings. Halama raised
his glove in salute to the standing ovation he received on the way
to the dugout.

Ricardo Rincon pitched out of a jam in the seventh, and Keith
Foulke pitched the ninth for his AL-leading 35th save in 40

Lopez, who pitched a complete-game loss at the Coliseum last
month, allowed eight hits and six runs in three innings.

"He just didn't have it, from the first pitch on," Baltimore
manager Mike Hargrove said. "We tried to leave him in there to see
if he could find it. We'd been going to our bullpen a lot lately
... but it was just obvious it wasn't going to happen."

It was Lopez's shortest start since May 1, when he was forced to
leave his start against Detroit after one inning with a muscle
strain that kept him out of action for six weeks.

"It just wasn't my day," Lopez said. "I think it could be
better, but I'm still working on the finishing part. It's going to
be a tough season, but the only way I can (become) consistent is to
keep pitching."

Larry Bigbie and Brian Roberts homered for the Orioles, who also
mounted a rally in the seventh. A's reliever Chad Harville allowed
Tim Raines Jr.'s RBI triple and Deivi Cruz's run-scoring single
before B.J. Surhoff lined out to second with two runners on.

"This whole series, you could make a defensive highlight film
out of the plays they made," Hargrove said.

It was the first major league RBI and the first triple for
Raines, who played briefly with his famous father two years ago in

Game notes
Baltimore OF Luis Matos missed his second straight game
after getting hit on the left wrist Tuesday night, but manager Mike
Hargrove expects him to be ready on Friday for the opener of the
Orioles' series in Seattle. Matos is in a 10-for-62 slump. ... A's
OF Jermaine Dye is doing well in his rehab stint with Triple-A
Sacramento, but Oakland doesn't expect to recall him until next
week. ... The A's are 17-9 in August. That's the best mark in the
majors. ... Baltimore reliever John Parrish struck out the side in
the seventh.