A's capitalize on Rodriguez's gaffe, complete comeback

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Though the ending should live forever on
blooper reels, Jason Kendall and the Oakland Athletics didn't
believe they stole the lead in the AL West.

Francisco Rodriguez and the Angels simply dropped it.

Kendall alertly dashed home from third base with the winning run
when Los Angeles' miffed closer flubbed the throw back from his
catcher, putting one of baseball's strangest finishes in years on
Oakland's 5-4 victory Thursday.

The A's took sole possession of first place for the first time
this season with their second straight come-from-behind win against
the Angels' outstanding bullpen. That achievement would be
remarkable enough -- but nobody in either clubhouse ever remembered
an ending as odd as this one.

"I've never seen that in my life, but that stuff happens in
baseball," Kendall said. "You learn early on that you're supposed
to always follow the ball. I saw it rolling away, and I didn't
think he'd get it back in time. Fortunately for us, I was right."

With Eric Chavez at the plate with two runners on and two out,
Rodriguez's first pitch was called a ball. The right-hander stared
in and nonchalantly stuck out his glove for catcher Jose Molina's
throw, but it glanced away.

Almost nobody in the Coliseum was watching -- but the A's were

"I pointed at the ball, and by the time I looked at Kendall, he
had already taken off," said Bobby Crosby, who reached second base
on defensive indifference a moment earlier. "I was in shock. I was
like, 'Are you kidding me?"

"We were all in the dugout yelling, 'Run, Forrest, run!"
outfielder Nick Swisher said.

Kendall sprinted home and beat the throw, sending the A's
roaring from the dugout to celebrate their 20th win in 23 games
since they trailed Los Angeles by 8½ games on July 18.

Chavez hit a tying three-run homer in the seventh for the A's,
who rallied from a four-run deficit. They took two of three from
their California rivals, but not even the freewheeling A's could
have predicted such a lucky finish -- and the Angels couldn't
believe it either.

"A 5-year-old could have caught it," said Rodriguez, who was
charged with an error. "I should have caught the ball. It's
unfortunate that we lost the game like that, but what can you do?"

Until the bullpen blew it for starter Paul Byrd, the Angels
seemed likely to keep their hold on first place, where they had
been for all but six days this season.

Vladimir Guerrero homered and drew three intentional walks,
including a free pass with nobody on base in the ninth, while Byrd
allowed eight hits over six innings and left with a 4-0 lead.

But the Angels' relievers collapsed for the second straight day
in front of a thrilled crowd at the Coliseum, where the A's drew
more than 117,000 fans for the three-game series.

The Angels' clubhouse was predictably tense after the game, with
teammates struggling to find the proper words for their closer's
gaffe. Los Angeles has lost 10 of 16.

"I haven't seen a game like that, ever," said Byrd, who's
winless in his last five starts. "It's disappointing he didn't
make them earn it. It's unfortunate the way the last few innings
turned. You don't want to take any credit away from them, but it's
a gift."

The bullpen's struggles began in the seventh, when Jay Payton
homered on Brendan Donnelly's first pitch. After Mark Ellis and
Kendall singled, Chavez cleared the bases with his 20th homer of
the season deep into the right-field stands.

Scot Shields blew a lead in Los Angeles' 4-3 loss Wednesday
night, allowing three runs in the seventh. Donnelly and Shields are
the busiest relievers in the Angels' pen, which led the majors in
ERA in each of the past three seasons.

And Shields (7-8) blew it again in the ninth, allowing two
singles before Rodriguez took over.

"We have the utmost confidence in those guys," Angels manager
Mike Scioscia said. "We just need to hold leads and close guys

All-Star Justin Duchscherer (6-2) pitched two hitless innings to
win for the second straight day.

Los Angeles was in control when Steve Finley emerged from a
two-month slump with a two-run double in the seventh. Joe Blanton
yielded six hits and four walks in six difficult innings for the
A's, and Joe Kennedy gave up Finley's hit in his only inning of

Finley, who has struggled with slumps and injuries in his first
season with the Angels, hit his first homer since June 10 late in
Los Angeles' loss Wednesday night. But with two outs and two
runners on in the ninth Thursday, Finley popped out.

Game notes
Guerrero stole two bases. ... OF Garret Anderson sat out
his second straight game for the Angels after aggravating the
tendinitis in his right knee while making a sliding catch in
Tuesday's game. He should be available for the weekend series in
Seattle. ... Mark Kotsay returned to Oakland's lineup after missing
most of nine recent games because of back problems. Kotsay had two
singles as the DH.