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OAKLAND 7, ANGELS 3

A's Rajai Davis goes long on error by Angels

Joe Saunders' errant pickoff attempt allows the exceptionally quick runner to scores from first.

July 18, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

OAKLAND — This play might never have happened anywhere except the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where the foul territory is expansive enough to cover two end zones.

Joe Saunders threw away a pickoff try to first base, and so what? The runner moves into scoring position, and the pitcher bears down.

Not here, not with an exceptionally fast runner on first base. Saunders threw the ball deep, into what is an end zone during the Raiders' season.

The ball rocketed across the right-field line, rattled around the Angels' bullpen and rolled beneath the chairs there. Rajai Davis raced around the bases and scored on that three-base error, good for the winning run in the Oakland Athletics' 7-3 victory over the Angels on Friday.

"You couldn't have placed it any better," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was right in the triangle where everybody has to run the max distance to get to it, and that guy can fly."

That freak play will show up on the television highlights, but the Angels left the ballpark with other concerns. Saunders performed erratically again, reliever Justin Speier performed dreadfully again, and shortstop Erick Aybar left the game because of dizziness.

Aybar lost his helmet and apparently was kicked in the head while trying to break up a double play. Scioscia said Aybar would be evaluated again today but did not suffer a concussion.

In his last three outings, Speier has faced 12 batters and retired one, on a sacrifice bunt.

If the Angels can work the trade they want, Speier's role would be diminished. But they cannot lessen the importance of Saunders, an All-Star starter last season, on a team built upon a foundation of starting pitching.

Saunders walked a career-high six batters Friday, in the latest in a series of troublesome outings. In his last four starts, he has walked 16 and struck out nine, in a total of 20 innings.

On Friday, he gave up four earned runs in six innings, with six hits and six walks.

"I have to command the ball in the strike zone," Saunders said. "I haven't been doing it lately."

The spotty performances extend far beyond the last four, though. In his last 12 starts, he is 3-5 with a 6.08 earned-run average. His overall ERA rose to 4.72, his highest since April 5, 2007.

Scioscia said there was no evidence Saunders was injured and said his stuff was fine. Saunders has worked on his delivery, which had regressed in previous weeks.

"Three or four outings ago, he looked out of sync," Scioscia said. "That probably raised our eyebrows a little more than what's happened the last couple outings."

Saunders does not overpower hitters, and he needs to work ahead in the count so that batters will chase his sinker. If he pitches behind in the count, as he has so often recently, batters can simply take the sinker.

"He's not a guy that's going to hit every corner," catcher Jeff Mathis said.

The Angels scored first, in the second inning, when Kendry Morales extended his hitting streak to 17 games on his team-high 17th home run.

The A's took a 3-1 lead in the fourth, on a three-run homer by Bobby Crosby.

The A's pitchers were not immune from control problems. There were 15 walks in the game.

Oakland starter Trevor Cahill threw the same number of balls and strikes. The Angels tied the score in the fifth, on a bases-loaded walk from Cahill to Juan Rivera.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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