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Halos' flub hands A's win, first place

Halos' flub hands A's win, first place

OAKLAND -- The Athletics took one of the most unpredictable routes imaginable to first place in the American League West on Thursday afternoon at McAfee Coliseum.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and runners at second and third, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez stared down A's slugger Eric Chavez. After the first pitch was called a ball, catcher Jose Molina's throw back to the mound was mishandled by Rodriguez. The ball got just far enough away for Jason Kendall to score the winning run from third and end the game at 5-4 in favor of the A's.

The win gave Oakland its first outright lead in the AL West this season. It also clinched their ninth consecutive series victory and 12th straight winning series at home.

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After the game, no one on the A's could recall witnessing such an odd game-ending play.

"Never," said first baseman Dan Johnson, who was standing in the on-deck circle when the play occurred. "I've never even heard of this before."

"That is the first time I've seen that," said Rodriguez, whose mistake pinned Scot Shields with his second loss in as many days. "Unfortunately, it happened to me."

The inning began with a Mark Ellis single to center. Kendall then attempted to bunt him to second, but Shields pounced off the mound and threw in time to force Ellis at second. Mark Kotsay followed with a single, forcing Angels manager Mike Scioscia to bring in Rodriguez. After Bobby Crosby's fielder's choice advanced Kendall to third, Chavez stepped to the plate.

Very few of the 31,471 fans in attendance realized what was happening until Kendall was a few feet from home plate. The fans weren't the only ones in the dark, as many of the A's players didn't get a chance to see it happen until they saw replays in the clubhouse.

"I didn't know if there was time called or if the ball was in play," said Chavez. "It's kind of cloudy what happened. It's a good thing that Jason was paying attention."

"Sometimes, it pays off to pay attention," added A's manger Ken Macha.

The only person who didn't seem wildly amazed by the play was Kendall, who chalked his attentiveness up to basic fundamentals.

"You're not supposed to take your eye off the pitcher, but you don't ever expect something like that to happen," he said calmly, as the media crowded around him at his locker.

"It was a crazy ending and a good team win."

The seemingly unprecedented play capped a remarkable Oakland comeback against the Angels' bullpen, who, for the second consecutive game, couldn't get the job done.

Down, 4-0, in the seventh, Jay Payton led off the inning with his 12th home run of the season to give the A's their first run. Then, with two on and two out, Chavez drove the second offering he saw from Brendan Donnelly over the wall in right field to even the score.

"You have to be ready for them to make a mistake and he made one," explained Chavez. "He missed with his first one and he came back with another one."

The seventh-inning comeback would seem like the obvious choice for the turning point in the game, but Macha disagreed, referring instead to starter Joe Blanton's ability to get out of the third inning unscathed.

An Adam Kennedy double began the frame, followed by a Chone Figgins single. The next batter then sent a deep drive to right. Nick Swisher not only got to the ball, he threw a bullet to third as well, halting Kennedy from advancing. Blanton then got Darin Erstad to strike out, and after one of three intentional walks to Vladimir Guerrero, Casey Kotchman grounded out to end the bases-loaded threat.

"That was the turning point," said Macha. "[Blanton] was able to stop them from opening the game up like they did [on Tuesday, when the Angels scored five runs in the second inning]."

The budding rivalry resumes again at the end of the month when the A's travel to Los Angeles for three games at Angel Stadium, beginning Aug. 30.

CJ Bowles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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