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Haren too strong for Rangers

Haren too strong for Rangers

OAKLAND -- So consistently stingy has Dan Haren been during this brilliant breakthrough season of his, the A's have become a lock to win when they give him a couple of runs of support.

Give him six? Cue up Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" and drive home safely, folks. With Haren on the mound, a three-run "slaughter rule" might as well be in effect.

"I don't know if I'd take it that far, but I can see why you'd say that," catcher Jason Kendall said Wednesday after Haren's latest gem, a 6-1 victory over the visiting Rangers in the finale of a three-game series at McAfee Coliseum. "You get him a few runs and you're definitely feeling pretty good.

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"I know it sounds cheesy, but Dan's 'The Man' right now."

He has been all year. Since opening the season 0-2 despite a 0.69 ERA, Haren is 6-0 in 10 starts, unbeaten in games in which he gets at least two runs, and he's worked at least seven innings eight times.

"I've always been impressed by him," Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. "I thought he was always pretty good, but his numbers are showing it this year."

Six runs is almost wasteful for Oakland's ace, who lowered his American League-best ERA to 1.64 overall with eight innings of four-hit work that also lowered his ERA over his past nine starts to 1.54.

"The way he's pitching," offered first baseman Dan Johnson, "what we gave him today is enough for him to win three games."

Only once in Haren's 12 starts has he allowed more than two earned runs; he allowed three on April 13 against the Yankees.

"He just dominates," said A's manager Bob Geren.

Haren, who walked three and struck out four, was asked if he's entertained thoughts of representing the A's in July's All-Star Game in San Francisco, and he responded with predictable patter about focusing solely on the present, etc.

He was far more interested in talking about Oakland's offense, which was clearly energized by the return of Milton Bradley, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI double.

"Finally getting a guy back, I think that got everyone kind of pumped up," Haren said.

Said Bradley, "I need the guys and they said they needed me. I just want to provide some energy, provide a spark. It was a good day. ... It just felt good to be out there and hear the crack of the bat and be part of the camaraderie."

The A's wasted no time getting Haren the crooked number he needs to post a "W." Shannon Stewart worked a leadoff walk from Rangers starter John Koronka in the first inning, moved up on a one-out single by Nick Swisher, and scored ahead of Swisher on a rare triple by Johnson, which was made possible when his two-out drive into the right-field corner caromed off the wall in foul ground and well back into the field of play.

"It takes me a full calendar day to get to third base," Johnson cracked.

An inning later, Bradley got into the act, following a Swisher double with one of his own. Bradley singled in the fifth ahead of Johnson's sacrifice fly, and an RBI single by Kendall and a sacrifice fly by Travis Buck closed the scoring in the sixth.

Bradley, whom Geren said worked tirelessly on his swing while rehabbing his strained hamstring, expects the offense to get another lift Friday when fellow outfielder Mark Kotsay returns from the 60-day disabled list.

"He's gonna have the biggest smile on his face," Bradley said, smiling himself. "It's gonna feel like we have our whole squad back. It's gonna feel like we're the Oakland A's again."

And the next time Haren toes the rubber, Monday against the visiting Red Sox, it'll probably feel like another win in the making.

"When he gets a lead, he knows how to run to the finish line," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He leads the league in ERA, and he pitched like it today."

Matt Smith 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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