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Zito has his way with struggling Boston

Zito has his way with struggling Boston

OAKLAND -- In mid-August, Barry Zito had two straight starts in which he left after five innings and gave up at least four runs. The All-Star lefty had discovered that his mechanics were off after watching film and that he wasn't standing upright enough during his delivery.

Zito's delivery problems now seem about as distant as the offensively challenged first half for the A's. After carrying a no-no into the eighth inning during his last start, Zito held the Red Sox to one run over 6 1/3 innings and the A's won, 7-2, at McAfee Coliseum on Wednesday for the three-game series sweep.

The A's have now won 15 of their past 19 games to improve to 77-56. They moved 21 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 30, 2004 and have a season-high, nine-game home winning streak. With Thursday's off-day, the A's finished at 21-6 in August for the best record in the Majors.

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Zito was nothing close to a no-no against Boston, but he still wasn't too shabby by allowing just two walks and scattering eight hits against a beat-up Red Sox lineup that was without Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz for the third straight game.

The three starting pitchers for the A's during the series dominated the Sox -- who were also without Alez Gonzalez, Wily Mo Pena, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek -- for 20 2/3 innings by holding the once powerful Boston lineup to two earned runs. A's starters have gone 17 straight games without having more than two walks, the longest such streak in Oakland history.

"This streak has been about pitching," said A's manager Ken Macha. "Barry went out there and gave us another solid game. Not quite as sharp as in Texas, but it was good enough."

Zito (15-8) won his third consecutive start and has allowed just four earned runs over his past 22 2/3 innings. The left-hander reached 15 wins for the third time in his career and the first time since his Cy Young Award in 2002.

"[We knew] he was going to bounce back because that is what he does," said Mark Ellis. "He's an All-Star. We have all the confidence in the world in him. If he throws strikes and is on top of his game, he is pretty tough to beat, and he did that today."

The lefty looked much more dominant than counterpart Curt Schilling, but still ran into trouble in the second inning. Zito gave up lead-off hits to Mike Lowell and Gabe Kabler and yielded a run on a single to Eric Hinske. But Zito limited the damage by getting Dustin Pedroia to pop out to second and striking out former A's player Carlos Pena. Zito had four strikeouts after the first two frames and ended with eight on the day.

Zito didn't walk a batter until Kevin Youkilis in the fifth and retired seven straight at one point. His second walk loaded the bases in the sixth, but Zito escaped again by getting Pedroia to hit a soft fly-out to left field.

Zito was backed by the A's offense that has come alive in the second half after being the worst-hitting team in baseball before the All-Star break. The big sticks had 11 hits off Schilling and six runs during the first six frames.

Schilling got a standing ovation from the Oakland crowd after striking out Nick Swisher in the first inning for No. 3,000 in his career. But the rest of the cheers were for the A's, who had 15 hits on the afternoon and at least one from each starter.

The offense was led by Ellis, who went 3-for-4 and was a single shy of the cycle. Ellis' stats are a good example of why the offense is batting 31 points better in the second half.

"Numbers don't lie; we were terrible the first half of the season and now we have bounced back," Ellis said. "We feel confident going into the last month of the season."

Ellis was hitting as low as .179 during the beginning of the year, but the right-hander is batting .284 in August and has raised his average to .235.

"He's been swinging the bat like he did last year during the second half," said Macha of Ellis, who batted .316 in 2005. "Whatever we've done in the past [with hitting] doesn't matter anymore."

"My swing is not quite there yet," added Ellis, "but I definitely feel better than I did the first half of the season."

Bobby Kielty added a homer in the second in his first career at-bat against Schilling, and Jason Kendall also collected three hits with two runs scored. The 7-8-9 hitters for the A's accounted for four runs.

The offense came into Wednesday's game batting .274 after the break and averaging 5.2 runs per game. Those types of numbers are important for a team that is headed into September, where it has struggled the past two seasons.

"The pitching has been great all year," Kielty said. "We just didn't have the run support that we have now during the beginning of the year. We just [have to] keep taking care of our business and not worry about the other teams."

Ryan Quinn is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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