OAKLAND -- The A's were looking for their first three-game winning streak since June 13-15. Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero was looking for his first home run in 30 games. Guerrero's power stroke was found. He homered twice. The A's, holding out the faintest of hope that this four-game series at McAfee Coliseum could somehow springboard them back into the American League playoff picture, took a 6-4 loss in Thursday's opener and were left trying to convince themselves that their disappointing season is not lost.
As Oakland manager Bob Geren noted, Donnie Murphy's two-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth forced the Angels to turn to their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, but that little moral victory didn't prevent the A's from dropping 13 games behind the first-place Halos in the AL West. K-Rod made quick work of rookie Travis Buck, fanning him on three pitches. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a big series," A's center fielder Mark Kotsay said. "They're the divisional leader, and in order to gain ground, you have to win the series. Obviously we didn't get off to the right start, but the opportunity is still there to win the series." That'd be a neat trick if Guerrero's night was any kind of harbinger for the weekend. Leading off in the fourth inning, he opened the scoring by hitting a seemingly unhittable pitch from A's starter Chad Gaudin -- low, and so far inside that it might have drilled his kneecap had he not poked it over the left-field wall -- to end his 125 at-bat drought. It prompted a playful reaction from Guerrero's teammates, who initially feigned indifference by ignoring his return to the dugout before mugging him with a dogpile of smiles. The Athletics' reaction was along the lines of awe. Geren: "I was told it wasn't a strike -- maybe five, six, seven inches off the plate. He just pulled his hands in. That shows how strong he is." Gaudin: "It was a good pitch, the right pitch. He's just a freak." First baseman Nick Swisher: "It was a great pitch. He's just so dang strong." An inning later it was business as usual for Guerrero, who won last month's All-Star Home Run Derby in San Francisco. He lit into another above-average offering from Gaudin, sending it deep into the bleachers above left-center field, a three-run shot with two out that snapped a 1-1 tie and pushed his RBI total on the year to 87. Asked how best to pitch Guerrero, a notorious bad-ball hitter who is batting .429 with four homers and 10 RBIs against the A's this season, Gaudin shook his head like someone who'd been asked to explain Danny Bonaduce's enduring appeal. "I don't know what to say about that," Gaudin said. Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis had created the aforementioned and very-brief tie with his career-best 14th homer of the season -- his second in two days and sixth in 21 games since the All-Star break -- with one out in the bottom of the fourth. And Guerrero's blasts aside, Gaudin pitched fairly well despite an ultimately unsightly line of five runs on seven hits and three walks over six innings. Gaudin and rookie catcher Kurt Suzuki seem to be working together these days, too, and Swisher pointed to Ellis, Gaudin and Suzuki as evidence that the season might still be salvaged. "There's a lot of positive things I'd rather look at right now than the wins and losses column," Swisher said. "Whether we make the postseason or not, we're [still] fighting for that." Angels manager Mike Scioscia, noting that his club had dropped six of nine games to the A's entering the series, didn't sound convinced that the A's will fade away, either. "Maybe they haven't had as many wins as they'd like, but they're still a championship-caliber club," Scioscia said. "They've been taking it to us pretty good this year. We have to play well. "For a long time, they've carried the banner of our division, been the class of our division. They always seem to be there. They're tough."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.