Angels need just one more win to clinch division title

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Steve Finley has failed his fair share this season, so producing big hits that mean so much in September is all the more sweet.

He never stopped trusting his swing, and now his Los Angeles Angels are in perfect position to wrap up the AL West before the final weekend this year.

Finley hit a two-run homer, John Lackey pitched six strong innings and the Angels moved within one victory of clinching their second straight division title with a 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Monday night.

"This time of the year, you want to contribute when you get your opportunities," said Finley, who batted .143 in August. "God knows I've had plenty of opportunities this year when I haven't come through, so hopefully the odds are in my favor now."

The Angels opened a five-game lead and lowered their magic number to two. They will send 10-game winner Ervin Santana to the mound against lefty Joe Kennedy to try to finish off the A's on Tuesday night.

"The only magic number that matters is when it's zero," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've got one more game we've got to get to get it done. Every game's going to be tough."

Lackey didn't allow a hit until Jay Payton singled to center to start the fifth, when Oakland got a two-run double by Jason Kendall. Eric Chavez hit a solo homer in the eighth for the A's.

Lackey (13-5) retired his first eight batters before loading the bases in the third. He gave up back-to-back two-out walks to No. 9 hitter Nick Swisher and Mark Ellis before plunking Kendall. But Lackey got Mark Kotsay to strike out swinging to end the threat, and a furious Kotsay didn't believe he came around and let plate umpire Mike Everett know it.

Lackey won his third straight decision, though it was just his second victory in September. The Angels won for the ninth time in 10 games. Los Angeles beat out the A's in the season's final weekend a year ago, and Oakland missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.

The A's needed a four-game sweep of their division rival to have any realistic chance of avoiding their second straight year without a playoff berth.

"We knew we pretty much had to sweep, but we're still in it," shortstop Bobby Crosby said. "We still have a shot. We have to hope for the best."

Lackey outpitched rookie right-hander Joe Blanton (11-12), who had won his last three starts. Lackey struck out seven and walked two, allowing four hits. Francisco Rodriguez finished for his 15th straight save and 42nd overall.

"It's real big," Rodriguez said. "If you want to win the series, it's always important to win the first one. We put the pressure on them now."

Kotsay left the bases loaded twice in Sunday's loss to Texas and then did it once Monday.

Crosby's wild throw to start the second proved costly. He said his feet stuck in the dirt and he should have tried to set himself better before making the throw. The ball sailed past first baseman Dan Johnson for an error, allowing Vladimir Guerrero to reach.

Darin Erstad followed with an RBI double before Finley got aboard on a fielder's choice two batters later and scored on Juan Rivera's
single to center for a 2-0 lead. Both runs were unearned.

Finley connected for his 12th home run of the year with two outs in the fourth, a drive to right that also scored Bengie Molina, who singled.

"He's had better at-bats for the last two or three weeks. He's becoming productive," Scioscia said. "We need Fin. It's good to see him contribute."

Scioscia patiently waited for Finley to find his stroke this season, which was important for the center fielder's confidence.

"I've been comfortable in the box, but it doesn't always translate into results," Finley said. "This time of year, results count. I appreciate him sticking with me as much as he has and keep giving me opportunities. I'm glad it's starting to pay off a little bit more."

The Angels, who beat Blanton for the third time this season, posted their second straight 90-win season, third in four years and seventh in club history.

Game notes
Kendall was hit by a pitch for the 20th time this year, tying the Oakland record set by Don Baylor in 1976. ... Right-hander Dan Haren agreed to a four-year contract that will keep him locked up with the A's through his salary arbitration years. Haren, acquired in the offseason from St. Louis in a trade for left-hander Mark Mulder, will be under contract through the 2009 season with a club option for 2010. ... Scioscia hopes Garret Anderson will be back to playing left field soon, opening up the designated hitter spot. Anderson is still nursing a stiff back. "Hopefully not too long, but it's not quite to the point he's comfortable out in left field," Scioscia said. "I don't want to put a guy out there if it's a risk at all." ... A's right-hander Rich Harden, recovering from a strained muscle behind his throwing shoulder, could be available to pitch two innings out of the bullpen Tuesday.

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