Zito wins seventh straight start

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- When the Oakland Athletics play well, it's usually their pitching that gets the credit. During this two-month stretch of dominance, the A's are winning even when their top pitchers struggle.

Jay Payton hit a grand slam and drove in five runs to help Barry Zito win his seventh straight start as the A's won for the 10th time in 11 games, 9-5 over the Detroit Tigers on

Payton and Scott Hatteberg homered against Nate Robertson (5-9) in a six-run fourth inning that also featured the ejection of Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Oakland won the first two games of the series despite getting subpar performances from its aces. One night after Rich Harden
allowed a career-high 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings of an 8-4 win, Zito (10-8) fell behind 2-0 after two batters and allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven innings.

"Our pitching had been so good it kind of overshadowed the offense a bit," Hatteberg said. "We've been swinging the bats well the last month or two. Today we had to battle and score some runs. It was great picking up Barry since he's done that so many times for us."

After hitting just 28 homers in the first two months of the season, the home runs by Payton and Hatteberg give the A's 60 so far in June and July. They also lead the majors with 313 runs since May 30.

Oakland is 40-14 in that span -- a pace that would lead to 120 wins over a full season -- and has moved within 2½ games of the Angels in the AL West, shaving 10 games off Los Angeles' lead. Oakland also leads the Yankees by 1½ games in the wild-card race.

"Pretty amazing. This is a long season, though," manager Ken Macha said. "It would be nice to be able to stay this hot, but I don't think that kind of thing happens."

Zito's resurgence should come as no surprise since he is 47-18 with a 2.90 ERA after the All-Star break in his career compared to 35-30 with a 3.94 ERA before the break.

Robertson retired the first nine batters and led 3-0 before walking Jason Kendall to lead off the fourth. After two one-out singles loaded the bases, Payton hit his third career grand slam to give the A's a 4-3 lead.

"I haven't been great with the bases loaded," said Payton, a .195 career hitter in that situation before the slam. "I just wanted to get one run in with a sacrifice fly or a hit. I was fortunate I did more."

After Robertson fell behind 2-0 to Dan Johnson, pitching coach Bob Cluck visited the mound. Home plate umpire Ted Barrett came out
to break up the conference and had words with Cluck as the coach left the field. Rodriguez picked up the argument back at home plate, still upset about a ball call the pitch before Payton's homer. Barrett ejected him before the next pitch.

Rodriguez then went chest to chest with Barrett, touching him on the shoulder with his mask. Manager Alan Trammell tried to break up the argument, and Rodriguez threw his mask before leaving the field. When he returned to the dugout, Rodriguez threw a bag of balls and his shin guards onto the field.

"It was a pretty serious offense because he was throwing stuff out of the dugout," said Barrett, who planned to write a report on the incident.

When the game resumed, Johnson doubled and one out later Hatteberg ended a 35-game homerless drought with his two-run shot that made it 6-3.

"After the first three innings, I felt like I had the ability to control the game all the way through," Robertson said. "Then a walk a couple of singles and the home run. ... It was frustrating. They went from being patient to being aggressive right there."

Magglio Ordonez hit an RBI single in the fifth before Payton's RBI single in the bottom half restored the three-run lead. Vance Wilson, who replaced Rodriguez, led off the sixth with a homer against Zito to cut it to 7-5.

Payton's leadoff double keyed a two-run rally in the eighth and Jay Witasick pitched two innings for his first save.

"They're the only team who has knocked off the White Sox in the last month. That tells you something," Trammell said. "They've been playing better than anyone in baseball the last two months."

The Tigers got off to a fast start when Placido Polanco led off the game with a single and Carlos Guillen followed with a two-run homer. Dmitri Young's RBI single made it 3-0 in the second.

Game notes
Robertson allowed seven runs and nine hits in six innings. ... Marco Scutaro started in left field for Oakland with Bobby Kielty and Mark Kotsay sidelined with back injuries. It was Scutaro's first career start in the outfield, although he played two innings there for the Mets in 2002. ... Tigers center fielder Nook Logan started for the first time since July 21 and went 2-for-3 with a walk.