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Angels rally for six-game lead at break

Angels rally for six-game lead

OAKLAND -- Before Sunday's game, Torii Hunter made no effort to hide the fact he was ready for a four-day All-Star break.

The veteran would have enjoyed playing in the Midsummer Classic, but he was plenty excited about getting some much-needed midseason rest.

Apparently, though, he wasn't in too much of a hurry to leave McAfee Coliseum. He began the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the A's with an eight-pitch walk that sparked the Angels' 4-3 come-from-behind victory.

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The same offense that was largely stagnant for the first eight innings managed two runs in the final frame against Oakland closer Huston Street (2-3), who blew his fourth save of the year. Reggie Willits scored the go-ahead run when he raced home from second on Erick Aybar's infield single.

Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' closer, struggled to finish it, walking two and allowing a hit. But he escaped unscathed for his record 38th save before the All-Star break and helped the Angels to their 57th win before the break, a franchise record.

Certainly, the Angels roll into the second half of the season with a head of steam they'd have been without if they lost. The victory capped a series win against Oakland, pushing the Halos to a six-game advantage in the American League West at the break. The Angels' home record (26-20) isn't befitting of a first-place team, but they've got the best road mark (31-18) in the Majors.

The guy who led them most of the day, surprisingly, was spot starter Dustin Moseley, whose arrival forced the Angels to option infielder Sean Rodriguez to Triple-A. The 26-year-old right-hander was called up from Salt Lake earlier in the day because scheduled starter Joe Saunders was in Orange County with his wife and newborn daughter.

Moseley's recent history didn't portend a successful afternoon. In seven previous Major League appearances in 2008, he was 1-3 with a 7.85 ERA. In his most recent start in the Minors on Wednesday, he went six innings but allowed six hits and three walks.

His track record against Oakland wasn't any better. The last time he pitched for the Angels was against the A's, two months ago, when he allowed five runs in 2-plus innings.

But manager Mike Scioscia figured Moseley could manage a few innings and starter Jered Weaver would be available for cleanup duty in relief.

That plan seemed close to fruition too soon in the first inning, when Moseley allowed four singles and two runs on 21 pitches. But he settled in quickly, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. He didn't surrender another hit in his 5 1/3 innings of work.

"That's the way Dustin threw the ball for us most of the time last year," Scioscia said, recalling Moseley's 4.40 ERA in 92 innings in 2007. "That was impressive to see and important to see. He threw the ball as well as he ever has. That's a huge step forward for Dustin."

If anything, the performance is another sign of a franchise that knows how to develop and harness its pitchers. Angels starters are second in the American League in ERA (3.75). The rotation owns 17 quality starts in the past 24 games and has 47 overall victories, tops in the Majors.

Moseley was optioned back to Triple-A as soon as the final out was made. His roster spot is expected to be filled Friday by Chone Figgins, who is on the bereavement list and currently is in Florida with his ailing father.

Moseley said he felt talented enough to stay in the rotation, but recognized he needed to pitch well repeatedly before earning a permanent spot on a squad with two All-Star starters -- Saunders and Ervin Santana.

"I feel like I'm finally able to do the things I'm capable of doing that I did last year," Moseley said. "It's just a matter of getting the opportunity again and getting back up here."

Moseley's effort was his best of the year, but it was outdone by A's starter Justin Duchscherer. The Oakland ace gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings. In 16 starts this season, he's allowed more than two runs just once.

Vladimir Guerrero scored in the fourth on Howie Kendrick's forceout, and Casey Kotchman pulled a Duchscherer curveball to right field for a home run in the eighth.

Those runs set up the Angels' final-frame comeback. The eight pitches Hunter drew allowed his teammates to see how Street's pitches were moving. Juan Rivera singled to reach base for the third time in the game, and Kendrick's sacrifice fly brought Hunter home.

Willits pinch-ran for Rivera and began racing around the bases when Aybar hit a grounder to shortstop Donnie Murphy. Murphy's throw to first baseman Daric Barton was late, and then Barton unnecessarily double-pumped before throwing home to try nailing Willits.

"In that situation we plan to just go as hard as we can possibly go," Willits said. "I think [third-base coach Dino Ebel] was waving me; I'm pretty sure. But, to be honest with you, I was going. I got a good jump; I was running pretty hard."

With Willits' quick feet and even quicker thinking, the Angels head into the All-Star break with the best record in the AL. At 19 games above .500, their record is as good as it's been all season.

Before the game, veteran Garret Anderson reflected on where the club currently stands.

"We've given ourselves a chance to win every day, and that's something to be proud of," he said. "Every day, this team can come to the park and know a victory is possible. That makes things fun."

David Biderman 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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