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Wrap: Game 95 - Angels 4, A's 3

I'm not sure that there was anything that could have made this game more reflective of how differing the A's and Angels' seasons have gone thus far and are going from here. In this last, thriller-of-a-game before the All Star Break, all the elements that have made the Angels one of the league's best teams and have kept the A's in quasi-contention were on full display...but in the end, this game reminded me of the 2006 season, except that the tables have been turned on the A's. Instead of Jason Kendall racing in from home after K-Rod sulked off the mound to take the lead, it was Reggie Willits scoring all the way from 2nd after Murphy tried to get the out at first and Barton was too late at home with his throw. Instead of Bobby Kielty crushing a homerun off K-Rod in Anaheim late in the game to key a close one-run lead, it was Casey Kotchman roping one off of Duke. Instead of Chavez making diving stops on the third base line to rob Angels hitters of extra bases, it was Maicer Izturis. And that's just how the game goes, especially when your team is still learning how to play the game at the major league level...

This is not to say that this particular loss does not hurt. It does. It hurts a lot actually. The Duke, who seemed just a tad bit off all day, still managed to put in a more-than-quality start, going 7+ innings, allowing only 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts. He left the game in trouble in the 8th with Garret Anderson on 1st and Vlad up to bat and the A's clinging to a 3-2 lead. But then Geren called on SuperZiggy who got Vlad to bounce out to 3rd to end the threat. Is there a better story for the A's (and for AthleticsNation for that matter) than Brad Ziegler so far this season? I think not, but that's for another day entirely.

So the A's, after getting two walks in the bottom of the 8th but failing to score, were left with a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the 9th. Geren decided to go straight to Street for the save, even though Huston worked at least an inning the last two nights AND Ziggy had thrown only one pitch the previous inning AND had utterly dominated the Angels to that point. Then came the epic collapse. Street gave up consecutive, singles to Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera (who was pinch-ran for in the form of Willits). Howie Kendrick - the living, breathing prototype and essence of Angel offensive philosophy - came through with a sac fly to right and then, after a sac bunt moved Willits to 2nd, came the backbreaker. Erick Aybar hit a slow roller to Murphy who charged it well and threw to first. Aybar beat out the throw and Willits, who never stopped running, broke for home. Barton double-clutched for a second and that was all Reggie needed to slide in under Suzuki and give the Angels the lead. Crushing.

The A's, true to form, would go on to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the 9th only to see an even more-animated-than-usual K-Rod strike out pinch-hitter Rob Bowen and Kurt Suzuki to end the game and his stellar first half. God, that really hurt.

So folks, here are your 2008 Oakland A's: Now 6 games out of 1st place for at least the next 4 days; still growing into major leaguers; one step closer to being in full "sell" mode and definitely one strike, one out, and one play away from truly challenging the reigning AL West champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the division title...