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Angels undone in ninth

Angels undone in ninth

ANAHEIM -- The radar gun behind home plate registered 97 mph, but Francisco Rodriguez knew the truth.

"That [reading] was coming off his bat," K-Rod said. "The pitch was 93, 92."

Mike Piazza elevated Rodriguez's fastball over the center-field wall at Angel Stadium in the ninth inning on Thursday night, lifting Oakland to a 4-3 decision and handing the Angels their first loss after four games in front of a crowd of 39,234.

"That's where his power is, to the middle of the field," Rodriguez said. "If I'd thrown that pitch where I wanted it, down and away, he couldn't have hit it there. But I threw it right down the middle -- and he's a guy who's got the numbers to be in the Hall of Fame."

Piazza relished going deep against a closer with few peers.

"I was fortunate in that situation to square it up," Piazza said. "That guy's good, the best in the business. He's got a devastating breaking ball, but I got a fastball there. I don't know if he missed his location or what, but I'm just fortunate I didn't miss it."

The fireworks earlier had been supplied by the Angels' big boppers. Vladimiar Guerrero and Garret Anderson homered to dead center back-to-back in the fourth inning, bringing their club back from a 2-0 deficit against Oakland starter Chad Gaudin.

For Piazza, who also doubled and singled, it was first homer in an Oakland uniform, his first at Angel Stadium in 26 at-bats and No. 410 of his illustrious career.

"It was a good fastball," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "Frankie turned it loose, and Mike squared it up. He still has that thunder in his bat."

The first meeting of the season between the perennial American League West rivals was typical of their history. Of the past 19 games between the two clubs, 16 have been decided by two or fewer runs, nine by one run.

The win went to Justin Duchscherer, the fourth A's pitcher, with Huston Street notching his first save.

It ended with A's catcher Jason Kendall gunning down Erick Aybar attempting to steal second with Reggie Willits at the plate, Aybar having just singled as a pinch-hitter with two outs against Street.

"With that combination -- the time we had for the pitcher [coming to the plate] and throwing time [for the catcher] -- I thought we had a better than 75 percent chance of making it," Scioscia said. "Erick got a decent jump.

"It took a perfect throw to get him -- and they got it. If it was a 50-50 proposition, obviously we're not going to do it."

"We were talking on the bench, saying, 'Do you think they'll take a shot right here?'" A's manager Bob Geren said. "And we all agreed, 'Yeah, they might.' That's what makes them good." So a signal went to Kendall, which he relayed to Street, asking for a slide-step to get the next pitch to the plate quicker. Kendall called for a fastball, got a called strike from Street, then fired a strike of his own to second.

Oakland seized the early lead with single runs in the second and third on an RBI double by Bobby Kielty (after a Piazza double) and an RBI single by Eric Chavez. But southpaw Joe Saunders managed to keep the damage to a minimum by leaving five runners stranded in those two innings.

"I thought I made some good pitches when I needed to get out of situations and give us a chance to win," Saunders said. "That's all I can ask for."

Scioscia was impressed with his starter's resolve, maintaining that his performance was not reflected by the nine hits and three walks leading to three runs in 5 2/3 innings.

"He did a good job keeping the ball down," Scioscia said. "He had to work for outs."

Rodriguez, who struggled on Wednesday before subduing Texas to complete a three-game sweep, looked to be in command opening the ninth by striking out Shannon Stewart and retiring Milton Bradley on a popup.

Piazza was out in front of a slider with a first-pitch swing, then took another slider before unloading on a pitch Rodriguez regretted.

"His stuff was great," Scioscia said of his closer. "He was real sharp to the first couple of hitters, then Mike got a hold of a fastball and drove it out."

Rebounding from the homers by Guerrero (his second) and Anderson (his first), Oakland pushed across a go-ahead run in the sixth against Saunders on Mark Ellis' sacrifice fly after a walk to Nick Swisher -- who reached safely four times -- and a single by Kielty.

The Angels drew even in the seventh on singles by Howie Kendrick and Jose Molina, a nine-pitch walk by Willits and Gary Matthews Jr.'s sacrifice fly.

There was a time, before the 2006 season, when the Angels weighed making a move on Piazza, then a free agent. But he opted for San Diego, where he enjoyed a highly productive season before going back on the market and landing in Oakland as Frank Thomas' DH replacement.

"He's still a tough out in the batter's box," Scioscia said, one old catcher admiring another.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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