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A's take three-game lead

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Oakland manager Ken Macha decided to save
young Rich Harden for the opener of a crucial series against the
Angels.

Smart move.

Harden held Anaheim to two runs on four hits for seven innings,
and Eric Byrnes hit a two-run homer in Friday night's 6-3 win over
the Angels that gave the Athletics a three-game AL West lead.

Anaheim remained tied for second with Texas. Both are six games
back of Boston in the wild-card race.

The A's jumped on Kelvim Escobar for three runs in the first
inning, and Harden left with a 6-2 lead.

"Harden was well-rested going into this thing. He went right
out there in the first inning and had a live fastball," Macha said
of the 22-year-old right-hander, originally scheduled to start
Wednesday in Texas.

Winning for the eighth time in his last nine decisions, Harden
(11-6) struck out six and walked three. He improved to 3-2 in six
career starts against Anaheim.

"It's definitely an important series, so I was looking forward
to getting the ball in the first game and getting after it,"
Harden said. "I liked the way we opened up.

"The guys came out swinging and really showed what we can do,
and that set the tone for the entire game. That one was huge,
especially after the Texas series."

The A's were swept in Texas and had won just three of their last
nine overall.

Byrnes and Erubiel Durazo each had three hits for Oakland.

After scoring three runs off Escobar (10-12) in the first,
Oakland added two runs on Byrnes' homer off the Angels right-hander
in the fourth.

Mark McLemore's RBI grounder made it 6-2 in the sixth.

Escobar gave up five runs and seven hits in five innings, with
six strikeouts and three walks.

Byrnes, who had gone 15 games without driving in a run, hit
Escobar's first pitch to him in the fourth over the fence in left
for his 20th homer and 73rd RBI.

"I hadn't been hitting real well with runners in scoring
position, and that's probably more important than the home run.
Those are the money hits," said Byrnes, dropped to ninth in the
lineup.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the A's didn't give Escobar a
chance to settle in.

"Early on, he was high with his pitches and every mistake he
made, they hit. They jumped on him," Scioscia said.

Oakland opened the game with three consecutive hits off Escobar.
Mark Kotsay led off with a double deep to left-center field,
McLemore followed with an RBI double to deep right-center, then
Eric Chavez singled to right, with McLemore stopping at third.

Scott Hatteberg followed with a sacrifice fly. After Jermaine
Dye popped out, Durazo doubled Chavez home from first.

Troy Glaus singled home one run and had a sacrifice fly for
another of the Angels' runs. Anaheim rookie Dallas McPherson hit a
solo homer, his second, off Octavio Dotel in the ninth.

The Angels again failed to provide Escobar with much offensive
support.

"Some guys are trying to do too much, and some guys are just in
a slump," Scioscia said. "We just keep waiting for that little
spark."

The A's have led the division since overtaking Texas on Aug. 6,
but have been unable to open much of a gap. Their biggest lead
since regaining the lead was a four-game pad they held on Sept.
2-5.

Game notes
The A's and Angels face each other five more times in each
team's final nine regular-season games, including a three-game set
at Oakland next weekend. After this series in Anaheim, the A's host
last-place Seattle for four games. The Angels are at Texas for four
games before facing Oakland again.