Angels regain AL West lead, knock A's into second

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Except for Vladimir Guerrero's emphatic
fist-pump as his grand slam soared over the fence, the Angels gave
no indication this win was anything special.

Tell that to the 40,774 fans who packed the Coliseum in
anticipation of another win and sole possession of first place for
their Oakland Athletics.

Guerrero's grand slam staked Los Angeles to a seven-run lead in
the second inning, and John Lackey pitched seven scoreless innings
in a 9-2 victory over the A's on Tuesday night, knocking Oakland
out of the clubs' tie atop the division standings.

Guerrero had five RBI and Darin Erstad drove in two more runs
as the Angels capitalized on another shaky start by Rich Harden
(9-5) to remove all the drama from the first contest of a key
three-game series between the rivals.

With 50 games left in both clubs' seasons, the game clearly
wasn't everything -- but though the Angels denied it, the victory
showed they have no plans to step aside for the streaking A's.

"Coming into this series, there's a lot of hype on it being
pivotal, [but] I don't think it is pivotal," Angels manager Mike
Scioscia said. "There's too much baseball left. ... The top of our
lineup just did a good job, and a couple of big hits from Vlad kept
it going."

The California clubs began the week with identical 64-47 records
after Oakland closed an eight-game gap in the last three weeks. The
A's had won 37 of their last 45, streaking into the playoff race
after falling 15 games below .500 earlier in the year -- and they
caught Los Angeles atop the division last weekend before opening
this 12-game homestand.

But the Angels have been in first place for all but six days of
the season, and their struggling offense might be ready to emerge
from its funk.

"It's not a big game," Guerrero said through first-base coach
Alfredo Griffin. "It's very important to win today, but just to
break the streak they had."

Though the A's helped out with two costly errors, Los Angeles
had eight hits in the first two innings against Harden, who got
nine strikeouts with his 98-mph fastball, but was hurt by those
fielding miscues and funny bounces.

"Everything that could possibly go wrong did," Harden said.
"Things are going well for us, so something like that was bound to
happen. Everything I was trying to do, they were right on it."

Staked to a huge early lead, Lackey (10-4) easily won his
career-best fourth straight decision. He allowed five hits and
struck out six without allowing a runner to reach third base.

The loss was the A's third in the last 20 games, and their fifth
since the All-Star break. Trailing 9-0, Oakland avoided the shutout
with Eric Chavez's two-run homer off Joel Peralta in the eighth.

The Coliseum was unusually packed for the first-place matchup,
but the fans weren't even comfortable in their seats before Harden
fell apart.

He gave up a leadoff double to Chone Figgins, who eventually
scored when Mark Ellis booted Erstad's grounder at second base.
Guerrero added a run-scoring single moments later.

Steve Finley struck out leading off the second, but reached base
on a wild pitch. He scored when Harden bobbled Orlando Cabrera's
sacrifice bunt back to the mound -- and after Erstad loaded the
bases with an infield single off Harden's bare hand, Guerrero
cleared them with his 22nd homer of the season over the high wall
in left-center.

It was the third grand slam of the AL MVP's career -- and his
second in three weeks, following a slam July 21 in New York.

"When you leave something over the plate, he makes you pay,"
Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "It's been a long time since we
had something like that [early deficit]. When that happens against
a team like that, it's pretty hard."

Harden settled down, retiring 13 of his final 14 hitters, but
left before the seventh inning. He allowed nine hits and six earned
runs in his third unimpressive start over his last four outings. He
had his four-game winning streak snapped.

Lackey has been remarkably consistent this season. He struck out
at least six batters for the 12th straight time, and he pitched at
least six innings in his 19th straight outing.

Game notes
Finley was back in the Angels' starting lineup, batting
eighth. Manager Mike Scioscia believes only playing time will
rescue the veteran from his 5-for-31 skid compounded by shoulder
problems. ... Scott Hatteberg was out of the starting lineup for
the fourth straight game with a strained muscle in his ribcage.
Hatteberg, who hurt himself in batting practice Friday, hit off a
tee and took BP from Macha. ... OF Mark Kotsay also sat out again
with stiffness in his lower back. Macha hopes Kotsay, who's missed
parts of seven games since July 25 because of the injury, can get
back to baseball activities soon.