OAKLAND — Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli and Brandon Wood hit solo home runs in order during a span of four pitches from Keith Foulke in the seventh inning and the AL West champion Los Angeles Angels withstood a late rally by the Oakland Athletics for a 6-4 victory Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.
Torii Hunter returned to the Angels lineup after injuring his cheekbone a day earlier, then stole home and hit a pair of singles. Hunter was hit in the right cheekbone by a ball while working in the indoor batting cage before Wednesday night’s game. His second hit Thursday chased A’s starter Josh Outman (1-1) in the fifth.
The Angels hit three straight homers for the first time since May 24, 2004, at Toronto, helping Joe Saunders (16-7) win his second straight decision — just his second victory in nine starts. The Angels had hit back-to-back homers three other times this year.
Saunders pitched seven scoreless innings, allowed six hits, struck out four and walked three in an efficient 87-pitch performance. The Angels, still dealing with injuries to several key starters, doubled their run total from the first two games of the series. They lost 8-1 on Tuesday and then 3-2 Wednesday night.
The A’s had their four-game winning streak snapped and were trying to match their season-best stretch of five straight victories, which they accomplished from April 8-12 and again from May 21-27. Oakland hasn’t swept a series since taking all three at San Francisco from June 13-15 — a span of 25 series.
Oakland loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on a hit by pitch and two walks, then pinch-hitter Carlos Gonzalez singled in the A’s first run. After Jose Arredondo struck out pinch-hitter Travis Buck, record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez entered and recorded the final two outs for his 59th save in 66 chances after blowing an opportunity Wednesday. Pinch-hitter Jack Cust drew a bases-loaded walk from Rodriguez, Oakland scored another run on Aaron Cunningham’s groundout and Kurt Suzuki singled in a run.
The A’s had loaded the bases against Saunders with no outs in the fourth but couldn’t capitalize. Saunders retired Jack Hannahan on a called third strike to escape the jam unscathed.
Oakland’s Jeff Baisley singled in the third for his first major league hit after starting 0-for-12. He singled again in the seventh.
NOTES -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia is seriously considering a three-man starting rotation and to carry 10 pitchers for the first round of the playoffs. He isn’t concerned with the opposing club possibly getting two chances against two Los Angeles pitchers in the best-of-five division series. “Our guys have enough experience to make the adjustments,” he said. ... A’s leadoff hitter Rajai Davis stole his 25th base with Oakland and his 29th overall after starting the year across San Francisco Bay with the Giants. ... The Angels expected to know more about 3B Chone Figgins’ status Thursday night. He was to have his tender right elbow re-examined by team orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum in Southern California. With 2B Howie Kendrick (strained hamstring) still on the DL, Figgins could be needed to play some at second next week. ... A’s All-Star RHP Justin Duchscherer threw 10 pitches in a simulated game before feeling pain in his strained right hip. He won’t start Saturday as the club had hoped and is doubtful for the remainder of 2008.