<
>

Zito wins sixth straight, pitches A's to eighth straight win

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Barry Zito has his Cy Young Award stuff again. His curveball is at its nastiest and he's found a rhythm with his fastball, too.

What perfect timing coming in his contract year -- not that the future is at the front of Zito's mind. It's mid-June, and the Oakland Athletics are on a roll.

Zito struck out 11 in his sixth straight victory, Eric Chavez hit a two-run homer and the A's beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-3 on Friday night for their season-high eighth straight win.

"I felt like the stuff was good," Zito said. "The curveball had good bite on it and my fastball command was better."

Zito matched his career high with his third career 11-strikeout game and first since June 1, 2002, at Tampa Bay. It was his 11th game with 10 or more strikeouts, and he pitched in the late innings to chants of "Zito! Zito!"

"He looked pretty unhittable -- like he was throwing Wiffle balls up there with his curveball," Chavez said. "Barry's been pretty much unhittable for a month and a half now."

Jay Payton doubled twice among his three hits, Bobby Kielty had
two doubles with an RBI and Marco Scutaro doubled and drove in two runs for the A's, who finished with seven doubles.

Adam Melhuse also had three hits with a double for Oakland, which got significant contributions from throughout its order to move a season-high five games over .500 (36-31). The A's have
improved their play dramatically in June just as they did a year ago following a 7-20 May that featured two eight-game skids.

Oakland has won a season-high six straight at home and the A's have their longest winning streak since they won eight in a row from June 23-July 1 last season.

Zito (8-3) is making quite a statement to potential suitors with his A's contract set to expire after the season. He has returned to the form that won him the AL Cy Young in 2002.

"I thought he had the best stuff of the year," A's manager Ken Macha said. "I thought he had lights-out stuff tonight."

He won his sixth straight decision and fifth consecutive start, improving to 4-0 in June. Zito allowed eight hits and three runs in eight innings and didn't walk a batter for the third time this year.

The left-hander's menacing curveball was on from the start, and he struck out six through three innings -- fanning five in a row before allowing three straight hits in the third inning that included Kenny Lofton's two-run single.

"Very seldom have I seen the kid go out there and not have that curveball and have the success, but he certainly had it working tonight," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "You can't say enough about the game he pitched out there."

And Zito received the run support he has lacked so many times in recent years.

Scutaro hit an RBI double in the second to give Oakland a 1-0 lead, and then the Dodgers went ahead in the top of the third.

The A's hit back-to-back doubles off Brett Tomko to start the fourth, tying the game on Payton's double and going ahead on Scutaro's sacrifice fly to left two batters later.

Dan Johnson doubled in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to nine games. Chavez, nursing pain in his hamstring where it attaches to the buttocks, connected for his 14th homer in the fifth with a drive just inside the right-field foul pole.

"Tell you what, dude, that's making up for five years," Zito said of his team's scoring.

Tomko (5-6) has lost five straight starts for the first time in his 10-year career. He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings. The right-hander walked one and didn't strike out a batter for the second time this year and second time in three starts.

A's right fielder Milton Bradley missed his first chance to face his former team because of a strained left shoulder and isn't
expected to play Saturday or Sunday either.

The A's acquired the switch-hitting Bradley in a trade with Los Angeles on Dec. 13 to upgrade their offense and bat around Chavez. Bradley, who became known for his volatile behavior last season that included a run-in with Jeff Kent, has been plagued by injuries for the second straight season.

Kent doubled twice for Los Angeles, moving into a tie with Lou Brock and Billy Herman for 54th place on the career list with 486.

Tomko, facing the A's for the seventh time in his career, had lost five straight decisions last season with San Francisco but not five consecutive outings.

Game notes
A's center fielder Mark Kotsay was a late scratch with back spasms and isn't expected to play Saturday. ... Zito had a no-decision in his only other start against the Dodgers, a 5-3, 15-inning loss by the A's on July 14, 2001, in Oakland. ... Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew, still
nursing a bruised right thigh, got another day off to work on his swing. ... Los Angeles activated catcher Dioner Navarro from the 15-day disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Payton has four straight multihit games.