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Harden wins two of last three starts

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Erubiel Durazo wants to avoid the
devastation of missing the playoffs, and keeping that on his mind
has helped motivate the Oakland designated hitter.

He believes his teammates are feeling the same way. That's why
many of them are spending extra time in the batting cage working on
their swings and heading straight to the workout room after games.

Durazo hit one of four home runs by the Athletics in their 9-2
victory over Texas on Sunday that trimmed another game off the
Rangers' division lead.

"We've been in the playoffs the last four years," said Durazo,
who made the postseason with Arizona three times before joining the
A's last season. "I've been in the playoffs a lot. I don't want to
miss the playoffs. Our goal is to get past the first round. ...
We've been working hard."

Eric Chavez and Mark Kotsay both homered for the second straight
day, and Eric Byrnes also homered. Rich Harden made another
impressive start for the A's, who took two of three from the
first-place Rangers to pull within 2½ games in the AL West.

Oakland manager Ken Macha considered this a key series for the
two-time defending division champions, who have become accustomed
to surging in the season's second half. They've reached the
postseason four straight years and lost in the first round each
time.

The clubs play three times in Texas next weekend, then don't
meet again until seven games in September.

"Taking two out of three, to me, shows the character of this
club," said Macha, who watched the A's bounce back after the
Rangers beat their ace, Mark Mulder, on Friday night.

Scott Hatteberg went 4-for-5, matching his career high. He's had
four hits seven times, including twice this season.

Chavez hit a solo homer with two outs in the first. The
three-time Gold Glove winner has 16 home runs this season and three
since he returned July 9 after missing more than a month with a
broken right hand.

He said he's beginning to get back in a groove at the plate,
though he has to be cautious not to re-injure the hand.

"I'm close," he said of returning to the level he was at
before the injury. "For me, it doesn't feel like it's been that
quick. It's been a struggle. I wish (the power) would have come a
lot quicker."

The A's followed Chavez's shot with three straight singles,
including Durazo's RBI single that staked Harden to a quick lead.

Byrnes hit his career-high 13th homer, surpassing the 12 he hit
last year in his first full major league season. Kotsay, who had
his second career multihomer game in Saturday's 6-2 win, connected
for his eighth homer in the fourth, a solo shot over the scoreboard
in right against Rangers starter John Wasdin (1-2) to make it 5-0.

Kotsay added a two-run single in the seventh and finished
3-for-4 to raise his July average to .388 (33-for-85).

Durazo hit a two-run homer in the fifth to make it 7-2. The A's
finished with 14 hits.

Harden (5-5) didn't allow a hit until Gary Matthews Jr.'s
two-out double in the fourth, but he walked four through three and
had already thrown 71 pitches.

The 22-year-old right-hander was helped by some great defense in
his five innings.

Kotsay robbed Mark Teixeira of a homer with two outs in the
third, making a leaping catch against the center-field wall at the
400-foot sign. He had to reach over the wall to get the ball. Macha
called it a "game-saver."

"I've dropped two over the fence, but I don't know if I've ever
brought one back," Kotsay said.

The Rangers did get one out of the park two innings later, when
Michael Young hit a two-run homer.

In the second, Harden threw balls on 10 of 11 pitches to walk
Eric Young and Matthews. He then worked the count to 3-2 against
Kevin Mench and got him to fly out to end the threat.

"We got a bunch of opportunities and we couldn't get that big
blow," Texas manager Buck Showalter said.

Harden has two wins in his last three starts. He allowed just
two hits in a career-high 8 2-3 scoreless innings during Oakland's
14-inning, 1-0 win over Toronto last Tuesday but didn't earn the
decision.

On Sunday, he gave up two runs on two hits, struck out four and
walked five. Harden has allowed only four runs and eight hits in 21
2-3 innings in three starts since the All-Star break.

Game notes
The A's didn't show Dennis Eckersley's Hall of Fame
acceptance speech before the game, instead cutting away to show
their mascot, Stomper, dancing on the field and a root beer float
drinking contest on the big screen. The team later came back to the
speech in the middle of the second inning. ... Texas is 7-9 on the
road against the AL West. ... Wasdin, who allowed seven runs and 11
hits in 4 2-3 innings, was a rookie in Eckersley's final season in
1995. "It was an honor to pitch with him," Wasdin said.