CLEVELAND (AP) -- Esteban Loaiza adjusted the top button of his dress shirt, put the final touches on his silk tie, stepped to the
middle of the clubhouse floor and lifted his arms in triumph.
"I did it!" he said, smiling. "It's been a long time."For him and the Oakland Athletics.
Oakland has won six of its last eight as the AL West has evolved into a "Who wants to win this thing?" kind of race.
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Loaiza came off the disabled list and got his first win for Oakland, pitching seven superb innings Thursday to give the seemingly snake-bitten Athletics a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians.Activated before the game, Loaiza (1-3) took a two-hit shutout into the seventh in his first major-league start since April 23. The right-hander, signed as a free agent in the offseason, had been sidelined with a strained shoulder muscle.Loaiza, however, looked sharp in his return and had no trouble handling the hot-one-day-cold-the-next Indians, who didn't get a runner past second base until the seventh when Ben Broussard homered leading off.Loaiza allowed three hits, walked one, struck out five and gave the A's some return on their three-year, $21 million investment in him."I think that's why we got him here," A's manager Ken Macha said. "To pitch like that."Every pitch was working for Loaiza, who felt both relief and satisfaction in being able to help his new team and said he isn't concerned about fans who felt the A's wasted big bucks by signing him."I'm not even thinking about the money," he said. "I just want to go out there and win. Money comes and goes. We want to win and win a World Series."The Indians couldn't get any good swings on Loaiza, who always seemed to be ahead in the count and needed just 77 pitches to get through seven innings."I don't think getting one run on three hits off him is very good," said Indians DH Travis Hafner, who went 0-for-2 with a walk off Loaiza. "We didn't have many good at-bats and I didn't have
any."Kiko Calero got two outs in the eighth and Huston Street
finished up Oakland's combined five-hitter for his 11th save.Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall had three hits apiece for the A's, who collected 11 of their 15 off Jason Johnson (3-6) but banged into three double plays. Johnson dropped to 1-9 in 14 career starts against Oakland, and he has lost eight straight decisions to the A's since beating them in 1999.Broussard hit his ninth homer for the Indians, who can't seem to string together any wins and have been hovering around .500 for weeks.Oakland's excitement over getting Loaiza back in the rotation was tempered by Rich Harden's return to the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow ligament. Harden had only made one start since coming off the DL with a torn oblique muscle and now could miss a few more weeks."It's frustrating," said Macha, who has had seven players on the DL already this season.Oakland may soon lose another player. Shortstop Bobby Crosby
injured a knuckle on his right hand while fouling off a pitch before hitting a single in the eighth. He tried to stay in the game, but was unable to grip the ball."I'm hoping it's just a bruise," Crosby said before going for X-rays. "It hurts more now than when it first happened."Frank Thomas' 1,500th career RBI -- on an infield groundout -- gave Oakland a 2-0 lead in the third inning.The A's took a 1-0 lead in the second when Milton Bradley
singled with one out and scored on Dan Johnson's double.Marco Scutaro hit into a pair of double plays but led off the Oakland seventh with a single, went to third on Kotsay's third single and scored on Johnson's wild pitch.Oakland made it 4-1 in the eighth on Kendall's RBI single.
Kotsay is batting .410 (34-for-83) in his career against Cleveland. ... Before the game, Loaiza was worried that his game uniform -- packed away for more than a month -- wouldn't fit properly. A clubhouse attendant assured him, "Just put in on, it will stretch out." ... Thomas is nine RBI behind Mickey Mantle for 43rd place on the career list. ... The Indians have homered in nine straight games and in 47 of 59 this season. ... Cleveland begins a nine-game road trip against the Chicago White Sox on
Friday. The Indians then play three at Yankee Stadium and three interleague games in Milwaukee. ... Broussard is 15-for-30 with four homers during a seven-game hitting streak.