Lackey continues to plow through AL West as Angels stump A's

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- John Lackey saved the Los Angeles Angels' bullpen for a night. That wasn't nearly as important as Torii Hunter's helmet saving the Gold Glove center fielder from a serious head injury.

Lackey came within two outs of his first shutout of the season, and Hunter was 3-for-4 with an RBI double as the runaway AL West leaders beat the Oakland Athletics 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Hunter, who came in 0-for-9 against rookie left-hander Greg Smith, had a hit in each of his first three plate appearances. His run-scoring double came during a four-run third that enabled the Angels to grab a 4-0 lead, and they survived a scare during the rally when Hunter was struck in the back of the head by a thrown ball.

Mark Teixeira drove in the first run with a single, was held at third on Hunter's double and scored on Juan Rivera's sacrifice fly. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez's throw toward the plate was cut off by first baseman Daric Barton, who tried to get Hunter at third and got him on the back of the helmet as he slid into the bag.

"Sometimes the helmet falls off when you're running, so I thank God it didn't -- because if I didn't have a helmet on, I'd be out. I would be taking a long nap right there," Hunter said.

"I was a little dizzy, but it was just for a minute. My shoulder kind of spasmed up as the game went on and I was a little tight. But it's nothing a little rub won't help, and we'll have the trainers knock it out tomorrow. But I've been there before. I've hit plenty of walls and poles in my life, so I'll be ready to go tomorrow."

Manager Mike Scioscia and longtime trainer Ned Bergert came out to check on Hunter.

"Ned asked me 'Where are you?' and I told him I was in Minnesota," the former Twins All-Star joked. "He was just asking me what day it was and different things like that. Then he put his finger up and told me to follow it, and I told him I don't want my brothers to see me doing this because they'll talk about me. Then he started laughing and he knew I was all right."

The Angels were already short two outfielders, with Vladimir Guerrero getting his second straight day off under Scioscia's insistence, and Garret Anderson resting his sore left knee. Hunter scored on a single by Gary Matthews Jr. that capped the rally, and Howie Kendrick made it 5-0 in the fourth with an RBI single after a leadoff double by Mike Napoli.

Lackey (11-2) gave up seven hits and struck out five without a walk, lowering his ERA from 3.09 to 2.95. He lost the shutout bid on Jack Cust's 23rd homer.

"It was a four-seam fastball, one of the few that I threw all night, and he guessed right," Lackey said.

The Angels' ace, who led the AL with a 3.01 ERA last year before strained triceps sidelined him for the first 41 games this season, improved his career record against Oakland to 14-3 and won his 10th straight decision against AL West teams. The complete game was his third this season, and he did it with 98 pitches, 73 for strikes.

"That's definitely one of the reasons I incorporated the two-seam fastball the last couple of years -- to try and keep the pitch count lower," Lackey said. "I used to be a guy who struck out a lot of guys, so there would be a high pitch count early in the game. I pretty much went through the first few innings with just my two-seam fastball, and that allowed me to get deep into the game."

Cust acknowledged it was an uphill battle all night against Lackey, even though the A's were retired in order only twice.

"With Lackey, you know what you're going to get. He pounds the zone and throws a lot of strikes," Cust said. "They got off to a quick lead, and once he gets a lead of three or four runs, he's going to make you beat him. He's not going to beat himself. You can't really try and do too much against him. You've got to take what he gives you."

Smith (6-13) gave up five runs and a career-worst 10 hits over six innings, slipping to 1-3 against the division-leading Angels this season. The rookie left-hander, who beat the 6-1 on June 30 at Anaheim with a four-hitter for his first complete game victory in the majors, is 1-7 with a 4.72 ERA in his 10 starts since.

Game notes
Tuesday's announcement that video replay will begin on Thursday received a mixed response from the Angels and Athletics -- two of the three teams that will be playing at home that night. "I think it's great for the game," Oakland DH Frank Thomas said. "It's used in other sports, so I don't know why baseball was opposed to it. Yes, we've dealt with the human element for a long time in baseball, but there have been a lot of bad calls over the years that, I'm sure the umpires didn't go home and sleep well after seeing it on replay. I've lost a couple of home runs over the years that were called foul. But I just think it's always right to make the right call, for all parties." ... Hunter took the other side of the issue: "I'm an old-school guy, and I still feel that it's the umpires' call to make -- whether it's the right one or the wrong one. The human element is what makes baseball so great and so much fun, because with the naked eye, you can either make it right or make it wrong."