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CHAMPAGNE STILL ON ICE ANGELS WIN, THWART DIVISION-CLINCHING CELEBRATION FOR A'S ANGELS 6, OAKLAND 2.

Byline: DOUG PADILLA Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- The Angels kept the Oakland Athletics' clubhouse alcohol-free for at least another day.

The A's had planned on lifting their no-alcohol policy -- imposed this season -- so they could celebrate a division title. The beer and champagne will now have to get some fresh ice after the Angels rallied for a 6-2 victory Saturday.

Perhaps Oakland's bad karma came from the rally monkey that was hung in effigy above the left-field wall. Or maybe it was more the performance of John Lackey, who looked inspired once again against the A's.

A sign of life from the offense in the form of a four-run sixth inning also came in handy.

``It was kind of a pride thing going in that I didn't want to watch (the A's celebrate) on my day,'' said Lackey, who pitched a one-hitter the last time he took the mound in Oakland. ``We still mathematically have a chance.

``We're going to go down fighting if we're going to go down.''

Oakland's magic number for clinching their first division title in three seasons remained at two. The Angels will send Ervin Santana to the mound today against Oakland's Dan Haren in a battle of 14-game winners.

After a grueling 12-inning defeat Friday night in the series opener, the Angels' bullpen was strained. Lackey went seven innings, having begged for another inning when he sensed he might be lifted after six. The right-hander ended up throwing a career-high tying 126 pitches, having last done it last season against the Boston Red Sox.

``I looked at (pitching coach) Buddy (Black), and I gave him (an index finger) and said `I got one more,' '' Lackey said. ``He just kind of game me an, `I know.' He knew I was heading in that direction.''

Lackey (12-11) gave up two runs on four hits in his seven innings, with two walks and five strikeouts.

Brendan Donnelly and Hector Carrasco shut down the A's over the final two innings. The four-run cushion was key, since late-inning relievers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez were doubtful after pitching a combined 3 2/3 innings Friday.

``Effort is not going to be a problem with these guys,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ``These guys won't melt. If (the A's) come out here and win the game, so be it. But our guys are going to keep playing hard.''

The Angels jumped on top 1-0 in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Chone Figgins, but were otherwise handcuffed by A's starter Joe Blanton. The A's finally broke through on Lackey in the fifth with two runs.

Lackey gave up three consecutive hits to open the bottom of the fifth with the first two runners scoring. Nick Swisher had an RBI and a run scored in the inning, and Jason Kendall brought the go-ahead run home with an infield single.

It didn't take long for the Angels to respond against Blanton (16-12). A walk to Maicer Izturis to open the sixth and a double to Orlando Cabrera put two runners on base. That brought Vladimir Guerrero to the plate, but the slugger popped out on the first pitch, a nasty habit for Angels hitters of late when faced with run-scoring opportunities.

After Garret Anderson was walked intentionally, Rivera made Blanton pay with a bases-clearing double off the wall in left field.

Rivera had been one of those Angels hitters that had been anxious at the plate with runners on the verge of scoring. Hitting into first-pitch double plays had been a weakness over the past month.

``I was just trying to hit the ball deep, and I was looking for a soft pitch,'' Rivera said. ``It felt good. I said I didn't want to hit into a double play this time. I just wanted to hit a fly ball or hit the ball deep.''

Adam Kennedy followed with a double to score Rivera and push the score to 5-2. Howie Kendrick drove home the final run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly.

While winning the division is an incredible long shot, it still is possible. The Angels would have to win all of their eight remaining games (five are against Oakland), while the A's lose all eight of theirs.

If the A's win just once against Seattle this week, while the Angels win out, it would create a one-game playoff Oct. 2. One A'svictory against the Angels or two against the Mariners would make things official.

``You don't need to get hit with a brick in the head to know it's a must-win (situation),'' Scioscia said.

doug.padilla@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2731

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1) The Angels' John Lackey held Oakland to just two runs on four hits for his 12th win of the season.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

(2) The Angels' Juan Rivera, center, and Darin Erstad, right, celebrate with teammates after their victory against Oakland.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Box:

ANGELS at OAKLAND

- Doug Padilla
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 24, 2006
Words:832
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