Angels win sixth straight, claim first place

Angels win sixth straight, claim first place

OAKLAND -- There's something about the Oakland A's that brings out the best in Angels left-hander Scott Kazmir.

That's especially true when Kazmir faces the A's at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, his personal field of dreams.

Entering Monday night's game, Kazmir had thrown 14 consecutive scoreless innings against the A's at the Coliseum. He extended that streak to 20 before allowing a one-out home run in the bottom of the seventh to Jake Fox in a 4-2 victory over the A's.

"For the most part, yeah, I did feel good out there," said Kazmir. "There are some mounds, some stadiums, you just feel comfortable. It seems like this is one of them. Once you step on the rubber you feel like, not necessarily it feels closer, but you just feel a little bit more locked in, a little more focused."

Kazmir helped the locked-in Angels stretch their winning streak to six and move into first place in the American League West, one-half game ahead of Texas, which lost 4-2 to Seattle. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said it's far too early to worry about the standings, but Kazmir had a different take.

"I think it means a lot," Kazmir said. "Out of where we started at and now the roll that we're on, it feels good. It feels good to be back in first place. We want to stay there. We want to keep it and build a lead on it. It's good right now, but we've got to get back to business tomorrow."

The Angels beat the A's for the sixth straight time in Oakland and for the ninth time in their past 10 games at the Coliseum. They improved to 7-1 on their 14-game road trip and are 8-1 since losing first baseman Kendry Morales, their leading hitter, to a fractured leg.

Seemingly everyone in the order is chipping in to help fill that void. On Sunday, the Angels had a season-high 18 hits in a 9-4 come-from-behind win over Seattle. Against the A's, the Angels had just six hits, but one of them was Bobby Abreu's two-run homer off A's right-hander Ben Sheets in the first inning, giving Kazmir a 2-0 lead.

The Angels struck for two more runs in the fourth off Sheets. With two outs, catcher Bobby Wilson doubled down the right-field line and shortstop Erick Aybar roped a run-scoring triple to right-center. Howard Kendrick brought Aybar home with an infield single up the middle, giving the Angels a 4-0 lead.

"We made the most of our hits," Scioscia said. "We bunched them. I think we did a good job with guys in scoring position, we had some good at-bats. Then the two-out rally was big with Bobby Wilson's double, Erick's triple and Howie with the hit.

"Sheets really settled in after the first inning, made one mistake to Bobby and we got two runs on the board. He settled down and pitched well. Fortunately it was a night where we pitched well also."

Kazmir went 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and one run while striking out five and walking two. He evened his record to 5-5 on the season and improved to 9-3 lifetime against the A's with a 2.85 ERA. His career high of 13 strikeouts came against the A's on Aug. 24, 2007, when he pitched for Tampa Bay.

"That was exciting to watch," Scioscia said. "I think some of the best stuff we've seen from Kaz in a while. I thought he used both sides of the plate very effectively. [He] set up his changeup, pitched deep into the game and pitched well."

Wilson said he didn't know about Kazmir's past success at the Coliseum. He just knew that Kazmir was on.

"He threw all three of his pitches, threw the fastball in well. His changeup was the best I've seen in a long time," Wilson said. "He threw some good sliders. He competed. The last couple times I caught him, I've seen that competition, that drive."

Until Fox took a pitch up in the zone deep over the left-field fence, the A's had only one baserunner reach as far as third off Kazmir.

"He did a good job of getting ahead of us tonight," Fox said. "When you're throwing strikes and throwing all your pitches, it's going to be a long night."

After giving up a solo shot to Fox, Kazmir faced just one more batter. A's left fielder Eric Patterson grounded to first baseman Mike Napoli, but wound up on second when Napoli's toss went high and behind Kazmir, covering first, for an error. Kevin Jepsen came on to retire Daric Barton on a soft fly to left fielder Juan Rivera and Kurt Suzuki on a popup to Napoli.

Angels reliever Fernando Rodney gave up two hits and a run in the eighth, and Brian Fuentes pitched a scoreless ninth for his eighth save.

"It kind of feels like we're still scratching the service," Kazmir said. "Hitting wise, offensive wise we're starting to show a lot more. It still feels like there are quite a few things in our game that really haven't been shown yet.

"I think we'll be just fine. We have to stay confident and ride this wave right now."

Eric Gilmore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.