Angels win seventh straight

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Angels would like nothing more than to go into next week's four-game series at Oakland with as large a lead as possible in the AL West. They took a huge step with another late-inning rally.

Casey Kotchman grounded a tiebreaking two-run single through a drawn-in infield in the eighth inning and the Angels beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-5 on Friday night to increase their lead over the Athletics to four games.

"I sense momentum, I sense chemistry, I sense things coming together for us in all phases of the game," Angels pitcher Paul Byrd said after Los Angeles reduced its magic number to six. "It's really good timing. I'm really excited with the way our team's playing right now and the way we're picking each other up."

The Angels took advantage of three errors and extended their winning streak to seven. They are a season-best 23 games over .500 and have their biggest lead in the division since a five-game cushion on July 26. They are doing their best not to look past this
three-game series to the showdown with the Athletics.

"That series is going to be there and the challenges are going to be there. But the challenge right now is tomorrow's ballgame," manager Mike Scioscia said. "There's no sense in dealing in anything but trying to go out there and win tomorrow's game."

With the score 5-all, Joe Borowski (1-5) walked Juan Rivera with one out in the eighth and Bengie Molina doubled over a leaping Alex Gonzalez at third. Kotchman batted for Robb Quinlan and got his first hit in eight pinch at-bats this season.

"When you're given an opportunity, you try to make the most of it," Kotchman said. "Everybody tries to stay ready each and every day, especially down the stretch when you're trying to get as many W's as you can."

The Angels' bullpen gave Kotchman an opportunity to come through, retiring 13 of Tampa Bay's last 14 batters. Kevin Gregg
retired all seven he faced, Scot Shields (9-11) pitched a perfect eighth, and Francisco Rodriguez had a 1-2-3 ninth for his 41st save in 46 attempts.

Tampa Bay starter Casey Fossum came away with his fourth straight no-decision, allowing five runs -- four earned -- and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He left with a 5-4 lead after Gonzalez misplayed a routine grounder by Jose Molina.

One out later, Chone Figgins singled pinch-runner Zach Sorensen
to third, and Sorensen continued home after first baseman Travis Lee misplayed the relay from right fielder Aubrey Huff for the Devil Rays' 120th error, the most in the majors.

Byrd gave up five runs -- four earned -- and 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings. He has given up 12 earned runs and 25 hits over 16 1/3 innings in his three outings against Tampa Bay.

"It's not just Tampa Bay. It's any team that starts with a 'T' that I struggle with -- Toronto, Texas -- I've finally figured it out after wracking my brain many, many times," he said. "I threw some balls on the corners and they hit them. If I missed over the middle of the plate, it got crushed. I didn't get away with anything. But our offense overcame my poor start, and I'll be able to sleep tonight because of that."

Huff drove in a first-inning run with the first of his three hits, but the Angels took a 2-1 lead in the bottom half on Orlando Cabrera's RBI triple and Vladimir Guerrero's run-scoring groundout.

Hall singled home another run in the second and Tampa Bay went ahead 4-2 in the third on Jorge Cantu's run-scoring double -- which increased his club-record RBI total to 111 -- and Jonny Gomes' sacrifice fly.

Cabrera drove in another run in the third with a groundout, but Huff made it 5-3 in the fifth with his first homer since Aug. 28, reaching 20 homers for the fourth straight season.

Darin Erstad homered in the seventh to pull the Angels within a run.

Game notes
Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, who received a one-game suspension on Friday as a result of his ejection from a game at Boston on Sept. 8, will sit out Saturday's contest. ... For the first time since 1993, there are co-winners of the Gene Autry Trophy as Angels MVP -- Figgins and 20-game winner Bartolo Colon. ... Byrd needs 1 2/3 more innings and John Lackey needs two more to give the Angels three pitchers with at least 200 innings in the
same season for the first time since 1992. Colon has 212 2/3. ... The Angels plan to start Colon with his usual rest Sunday instead of pushing him back to Monday's game in Oakland. This way, Colon would be available to pitch the series finale against the Athletics on three days' rest if necessary.