- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2011

OAKLAND, CALIF. (AP) - As the night wore on, Rich Harden found himself reflecting on his old dominant days in Oakland.

This was vintage Harden _ against the club from his home country, too.

The hard-throwing Canadian matched his career high with 11 strikeouts and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, Josh Willingham hit a two-run homer, and the Athletics beat the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0 on Friday night.

“That was fun,” Harden said, smiling. “That was close to how I felt back then. I hope to continue to build on that.”

Harden quickly recovered from a shaky start and Willingham’s drive in the first off Brett Cecil (4-6) held up as the A’s bounced back a day after being shut out 7-0 in the series opener. They won for just the third time in eight games.

J.P. Arencibia singled to left with one out in the fifth for the first hit off Harden (4-2), who recorded his 11th career 10-strikeout game and first since Sept. 5, 2009, at the New York Mets.

Aside from the first three batters, Harden looked much like the pitcher he was in 2008 during his first stint with the A’s. He went a combined 10-2 that year with a 2.07 ERA in 25 starts between Oakland and the Chicago Cubs.

He dazzled with a nasty fastball-changeup combination and won consecutive decisions for the first time this season, and both came against the Blue Jays. He pitched seven strong innings at Toronto on Aug. 9.

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista walked in the first, third and eighth innings to give him a majors-leading 102. He reached 100 in his 113th game, fewest by a Blue Jay. The last major leaguer to reach 100 walks in 115 games or fewer was former San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds in 2007, the year he broke Hank Aaron’s home run record.

“A lot of guys are going to try to come after me no matter what, but there’s times when I know when they’re trying to walk me,” Bautista said. “I don’t think that was the case today. I take pride in going up to the plate and trying to hit balls hard but at the same time I’m trying to swing at strikes, not balls.”

Harden struck out 11 for the fourth time. He last did it on July 31, 2009, at Florida. Oakland (56-69) avoided falling to a season-worst 15 games below .500, where the club was Monday. The A’s are 3-5 on this 10-game homestand.

“When he’s on, he’s as good as anybody we’ll face,” Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. “He’s been outstanding. You can take the yearlong stats and the record and set that aside.”

Willingham hit his 21st homer with two out in the first and it was all Harden needed. Willingham’s 71 RBIs match the A’s season high from last season done by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki.

Harden looked to be headed for a rough night after committing a fielding error on the first play of the game only a day after the pitchers went through pregame fielding drills. Then, Harden allowed back-to-back walks before striking out the side to leave the bases loaded.

“That’s hard to do with the bases empty, let alone with them loaded,” Bautista said.

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