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Oakland win wraps up perfect homestand

8/31/2003

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- During a nine-game winning streak, it's
important to get a few breaks. The Oakland Athletics got a big one
on Sunday -- and it prompted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to start a
food fight.

Miguel Tejada homered and rookie Rich Harden got 10 strikeouts
in his first win in five starts as the A's finished a perfect
homestand with a 4-3 victory over the Devil Rays.

Oakland took control of its 13th win in 15 games with three runs
in the fifth. The rally was helped along when the umpires declined
to call a swinging third strike on Ramon Hernandez, who drew a walk
instead.

Before the ensuing rhubarb was over, Tampa Bay coaches Lee Elia
and John McLaren had been ejected, a tray of candy and gum had been
thrown on the field, and manager Lou Piniella had taken a
historical perspective.

"That's as blatant a check-swing as I've ever seen, and I've
been in the big leagues since 1969," Piniella said. "Oakland
doesn't need any help. They're playing well as it is. ... Three
blind mice could have called it.

"I know umpires have difficult jobs. I understand it, I really
do. But that one, there's no rhyme or reason to miss a call like
that. This guy almost spun around like a top at home plate. I guess
when you win, things go your way."

First-base umpire Joe Brinkman said he just saw something come
out of the dugout.

"I didn't see who it was who threw it," Brinkman said. "We
told Lou that if the person who threw it came forward, he would be
tossed. Otherwise, it would be Lou. Elia came forward, then McLaren
came out to argue, and he was tossed."

And Tampa Bay wasn't even done abusing its snack foods. After
starter Jeremi Gonzalez finished his complete game, he had to be
restrained from going after Brinkman, who had declined to make the
fifth-inning call.

Gonzalez then threw a bucket of sunflower seeds onto the field
before getting ejected.

"I think they will check the video, hopefully," Gonzalez said
with a grin. "They are human. They can make mistakes."

The A's won with more than good fortune, however. Reliever
Ricardo Rincon protected the lead by adeptly blocking the plate in
the eighth inning and tagging out Tampa Bay speedster Carl
Crawford, who tried to score from third when Rincon's pitch got
away from Hernandez.

Rincon got spiked by Crawford, but he stayed in for two more
outs before Chad Bradford finished up for his second save.

"On a bad play, we caught a break and got the guy out at
home," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "When you get into little
streaks, guys start picking each other up."

Oakland's streak is little only by comparison. The A's aren't
quite halfway to their AL-record streak of 20 straight victories
last season, but they've taken a two-game lead over Seattle in the
AL West with 25 games remaining.

Harden (4-3) pitched seven strong innings, reclaiming the
control and blazing fastball that got him off to a 3-0 start in
July. He allowed three runs, five hits and a walk, retiring 12 of
the Devil Rays' final 14 hitters.

"All the work I've been putting in has been helping me out a
lot," Harden said. "It makes me feel a lot better, and it's great
having the team play the way it's playing right now. Everybody
picks everybody up."

Aubrey Huff finished a torrid August by hitting a two-run homer
and a run-scoring single for the Devil Rays, who lost for the ninth
time in 11 games.

Gonzalez (6-7), who allowed four hits and four runs in his
second complete game of the season, was outstanding in his first
start since returning from a trip to his home in Venezuela for four
days to be with his ailing wife.

Tejada hit his 24th homer in the second inning. The reigning AL
MVP hit .333 in August with seven homers and 24 RBI.

After Hernandez walked in the fifth, Terrence Long singled to
load the bases. Frank Menechino drove in a run with an infield
single before Chris Singleton hit a sacrifice fly and Jose Guillen
got a run-scoring double.

The Devil Rays still were steaming about the non-call in the
fifth inning, and thought it set the tone for the rest of the game.

"Everybody in the park knew he struck out except for
(Brinkman)," Huff said. "You pitch a whole different inning after
that. It was a bad call, one of the worst I've ever seen."

Game notes
Huff has a 10-game hitting streak. He hit .359 (42-for-117)
in August. ... Crawford stole two more bases for Tampa Bay,
increasing his AL-leading total to 45. ... The A's recalled SS
Bobby Crosby, Tejada's heir apparent. Crosby was the PCL's rookie
of the year with Triple-A Sacramento. ... Oakland also plans to
recall right-hander Mike Wood and knuckleballer Steve Sparks before
Tuesday's game in Baltimore. ... Moments after the coaches'
ejections, Piniella asked Coliseum security to remove a heckling
fan from behind the Devil Rays' dugout. "He was on everybody from
the start of the game," Piniella said. "They probably waited
three innings too long."