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TWO OUT OF THREE GO BAD FOR ANGELS FALL 1 1/2 GAMES BACK IN AL WEST OAKLAND 3, ANGELS 2.

Byline: DOUG PADILLA Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- A tight ballgame, tempers on edge, the division lead at stake.

It has become the tagline of the Angels-Oakland Athletics rivalry of late, and it was all on display during Oakland's 3-2 victory Wednesday afternoon.

The A's will leave town having won two out of three in the series to take a 1 1/2-game lead in the American League West. It's certainly not how the Angels wanted it, but considering their deficit was seven games a month ago, they aren't devastated by the series result.

``Close games are something we did very well with last year and we played an extraordinary amount of them,'' manager Mike Scioscia said. ``This year we're not having quite the same success, but I think with the back end of our bullpen and our starting pitching, we're going to play more close games.''

The game turned in the eighth inning against that Angels bullpen, as reliever Scot Shields took over for starter Kelvim Escobar. A walk and two singles gave the A's a 3-2 lead, and then things got interesting.

Shields (6-7) prevented further trouble with consecutive strikeouts of Eric Chavez and Frank Thomas with runners on first and second. He then hit Jay Payton with a pitch on the right hand to send the A's outfielder to the ground.

When Payton got to his feet, with his trainer and manager Ken Macha standing at his side, he made gestures toward Shields. While A's players moved to the top step of their dugout, some Angels players were standing on the warning track in front of their dugout.

It was nearly shades of May 2, when Oakland's Jason Kendall charged John Lackey. The Angels were upset later in that game when Robb Quinlan appeared to be intentionally hit with a pitch.

``I was trying to go in and the ball got away from me,'' Shields said about Wednesday's incident. ``If you look at my fastballs the last twodays, I really haven't been able to control it. They've been up and in.

``Mark Ellis was the first hitter off me (Wednesday) and I threw two up and in on him. It's not intentional. For some reason, he thinks it's retaliation for what happened a couple of months back. There was no intent to hit him.''

Payton was angry on the field, but later calmed down considerably.

``I don't think he was throwing at me,'' Payton said. ``When you get hit by a 96-mph fastball and you think your hand is broken, you just kind of react.''

Shields got out of that jam when he struck out Nick Swisher, but A's reliever Huston Street retired all sixAngels batters he faced over the final two innings for his 23rd save.

``I wasn't able to locate, and leadoff walks kill you,'' Shields said. ``I didn't throw the ball well and they beat me. ``But we're even (with the A's), and the other teams are right there, too. It's going to go down to the end, and hopefully that last week-and-a-half, when we have 10 games against Oakland and Texas, they're going to mean something for us.''

At the close of the season, the Angels will travel to Oakland on Sept. 22-24, return home to face the Rangers on Sept. 25-27 and close out the season with four home games against the A's on Sept.28-Oct. 1.

Part of the problem Wednesday was the Howie Kendrick conundrum. The rookie is a dynamic hitter, as evidenced by his two-out RBI single in the fifth inning, but he has had to play out of position at first base.

The A's took advantage of his inexperience there in the fifth inning. Marco Scutaro was on second base when Ellis struck out. The ball got away from catcher Jose Molina, who threw to first to record the out. Scutaro never stopped running and rounded third as Kendrick recorded the out at first. He scored just ahead of the throw to the plate.

``Scutaro had great timing,'' Scioscia said. ``It was obvious that Howie caught the ball and looked for the umpire's reaction, which is not what you want. But he's going to be fine down there.''

The Angels and A's have two of the three best team ERAs in the American League, but the A's are last (14th) in hitting, while the Angels are 10th. That slight hitting advantage could give the Angels an edge down the stretch.

``I'm not comparing ourselves to any other team out there,'' Scioscia said. ``I like our chances because I like our team. We made a lot of headway this last 30-35 games because we're getting into our game and playing our game and finding some continuity and chemistry.

``That's what we need to focus on other than anything happening in Oakland, Texas or Seattle. Those guys are going to be there and they're going to be tough. If we play our game, we match up well with any team in our division.''

doug.padilla@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2731

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Oakland's Jay Payton is hit by a pitch from Angels reliever Scot Shields in the eighth inning Wednesday.

(2) Oakland's Marco Scutaro, left, scores in the fifth inning as the throw to Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar at home plate is late.

Ric Francis/Associated Press

Box:

ANGELS vs. TEXAS

- Doug Padilla
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 3, 2006
Words:897
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