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Streaking Angels win eighth of nine, tighten AL West race

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- The two-time defending division champion
Los Angeles Angels are playing better than anyone in the AL West at the
All-Star break.

Even if they are two games under .500.

Kendry Morales hit a go-ahead, two-run triple to help Ervin
Santana win his sixth straight decision, and Los Angeles beat the
Oakland Athletics 4-2 Sunday for a strong finish to the first half.

The Angels wrapped up a 6-1 road trip heading into the All-Star
break for only their second winning trip this season. This trip
included a three-game sweep at Seattle, another first for Los
Angeles, followed by three wins in a four-game series against
first-place Oakland.

"We're playing better baseball," manager Mike Scioscia said of
his 43-45 club. "Our goal was not to worry about the schedule or
the way we played early in the season. It's a good time to get a
break, especially for the starting pitchers. This will give them
time to recharge."

Jose Molina hit a two-out solo home run for the Angels in the
second inning, just the second homer of the year for the catcher.
Los Angeles won for the eighth time in nine games to move within
two games of first place in the AL West for the first time since
May 1.

The A's lost three straight to their division rival after taking
Thursday's series opener 7-5 on a game-winning home run by Frank
Thomas.

Oakland, reeling from injuries to key players throughout the
season's first half, still heads into the break tied with Texas
atop the AL West standings, the first time since 1990 that the A's
have been in first place at the midpoint. They held a one-game
advantage over Chicago that year.

"Where we are is where we are," manager Ken Macha said. "It's
better than being 10 games behind."

Santana (10-4), a 12-game winner last season as a rookie,
pitched seven strong innings to improve to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in
five career starts against the A's. In his first appearance against
them this year, he allowed one earned run and five hits, struck out
five and walked three.

"That's one of my goals in the first half, to win 10 games, so
I feel very happy," Santana said. "I made an adjustment to
concentrate more, and keep my focus in keeping the hitters off
balance."

Francisco Rodriguez recorded the final three outs for his 21st
save in 23 chances.

Morales tripled to deep left in the sixth after Anderson drew a
one-out walk and Juan Rivera followed with a single. Left fielder
Nick Swisher slipped and went into the wall trying to make a play.
Morales was caught stealing 2-5-1 on a suicide squeeze play moments
later.

Dan Haren (6-7) struggled through six innings and watched his
winless stretch reach five starts since he beat Seattle on June 14,
a stretch with two losses and three no-decisions.

The right-hander allowed four runs and eight hits, struck out
three and walked one. He has allowed six home runs in his last five
starts, spanning 31 innings.

After Chone Figgins struck out swinging to start the game, Haren
allowed three straight singles, including Garret Anderson's base
hit to left to give the Angels a quick lead. Erick Aybar was the
lone Angels player without a hit against Haren, but he singled in
the ninth off Huston Street.

Oakland scored an unearned run in the bottom half of the first
to tie it at 1. Santana walked Thomas with two outs, then shortstop
Aybar fielded Jay Payton's slow-rolling grounder and threw wildly
past second into shallow center for an error that allowed Swisher
to score.

The Angels have committed 66 errors this year, tied with the
Cleveland Indians for most in the American League. Los Angeles had
the second-fewest errors in the AL last season with 87.

Scoring runs has been Oakland's biggest hurdle so far, and the
A's know they need better production down the stretch -- not to
mention having their key players healthy.

"I think it's been the whole story," third baseman Eric
Chavez, nursing tendinitis in his forearms, said of the team's
injury problems. "And it's surprising that we're in first place.
We really can't complain."

Game notes
Figgins stole his 32nd base of the year in the fifth and
then his 33rd in the seventh. He has 25 career steals against
Oakland -- eight this year and five this series -- for his most vs.
any team. He has four against Cleveland. Figgins went 9-for-18
(.500) with a home run and two RBI this series and is batting
15-for-37 (.405) on the year vs. Oakland -- his second-best average
against any club. He is hitting .412 against Detroit. ... Haren is
1-3 in four career starts against the Angels. ... Santana hasn't
lost since a 7-1 defeat to Minnesota on May 31. ... Oakland hitting
coach Gerald Perry was ejected Sunday by plate umpire Eric Cooper
in the bottom of the seventh for arguing balls and strikes.