OAKLAND -- The Angels and Oakland Athletics have staged some wild finishes over the years, such as the 2005 game in which closer Francisco Rodriguez missed a throw back from the catcher, allowing the A's to score the winning run, and the June 8 game this year, when Oakland's Mark Ellis hit a 12th-inning walk-off grand slam.
But the American League West rivals would be hard-pressed to pack any more drama into one inning than they did Sunday, when the Angels rallied for two runs against closer Huston Street in the top of the ninth and Rodriguez escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth.
After Reggie Willits scored from second on an infield single to give the Angels the lead, Rodriguez struck out pinch-hitter Rob Bowen and Kurt Suzuki with the bases loaded, and the Angels held on for a wild 4-3 victory in McAfee Coliseum.
Instead of heading into the All-Star break on a losing note with a four-game lead, the Angels left the Bay Area with a six-game lead, the AL's best record (57-38) and the positive vibes that come with an emotional victory.
"Whenever you can go into the break like that, it's big," said Torii Hunter, who sparked the Angels' ninth-inning rally with an infield single. "You think positive the whole time. If we lose this game, who knows?
"Now we're six games up, and you've got to be happy, but this [race] is far from over. . . . These guys aren't going anywhere soon."
The Angels trailed, 3-2, in the ninth when Hunter battled his way through an eight-pitch at-bat against Street and beat out a dribbler to third for a single.
Juan Rivera stroked a full-count pitch into center field for a single, advancing Hunter, who was running with the pitch, to third. Willits pinch-ran for Rivera, and Howie Kendrick hit a sacrifice fly to right for a 3-3 tie.
Ryan Budde's sacrifice bunt advanced Willits to second, and Erick Aybar followed with a chopper to shortstop Donnie Murphy, who charged and threw to first too late to catch the speedy Aybar.
Willits never slowed around third, and when A's first baseman Daric Barton pumped once before throwing home, it allowed Willits just enough time to slide in with the go-ahead run.
"In that situation, we're trained from the minor leagues up to go as hard as we can go," Willits said. "I got a good jump, and Dino [Ebel, third-base coach] did a good job of recognizing the play. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him waving me around, and that kind of reinforced what I was doing."
When Barton first went to throw, he saw Suzuki, the catcher, looking toward the third base line.
"The first thing that comes to your head is, if someone is looking up the line, you don't throw," Barton said. "If I'd have thrown it the first time, we would have had him at home."
When Hunter saw Willits racing around third, "My eyes got real big," he said. "I thought, 'Yeah, do it! Do it!' He's got to throw a strike home. The game is already tied, you might as well go for the win."
His next thought? "Thank you for double-pumping," Hunter said. "When the guy double-pumped, that's when I knew he was safe."
The game was far from over, though. Carlos Gonzalez led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and Rodriguez walked Ellis, who was trying to bunt, on four pitches.
Barton got a two-strike bunt down, advancing the runners, and Jack Hannahan was intentionally walked to load the bases.
But Rodriguez struck out Bowen looking at a 2-2 fastball at the knees and got Suzuki swinging at a 2-2 fastball for his major league-leading 38th save.
"That definitely was real intense," said Rodriguez, who flew with teammate Ervin Santana and A's pitcher Justin Duchscherer on a private plane to New York on Sunday evening for Tuesday's All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. "After I walked the guy, I thought, if I'm going to get beat, I'm going to get beat with my best stuff.
"It was a good win. Every game you win against the team that's right behind you is important."