- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. — Power hitting from a backup catcher. Strong pitching from a spot starter who hadn’t won in three months. Fine defense from a club not known for its glove work.

The Oakland Athletics are finding many unusual ways to make their usual second-half surge.

Adam Melhuse hit a three-run homer and John Halama pitched into the seventh inning as the A’s won their sixth straight, sweeping the Baltimore Orioles with a 6-4 victory yesterday.

With slumping Seattle’s loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland increased its lead atop the AL West to two games. Until Wednesday night, the A’s hadn’t been alone in first place since April 12 — but with another late-season streak from the majors’ best post-break club in the past four years, Oakland is setting the pace again.

“We’re playing great baseball,” said Halama (3-4), who won for the first time since May8. “We’re riding a high right now, and if we can continue to ride this high and put some space between us and Seattle, we’re going to be in great shape.

“I’m sure Seattle is reading the scoreboard or looking at the newspaper, and they know we’re playing good baseball.”

Scott Hatteberg homered and Mark Ellis added an RBI triple, and both players also made several of Oakland’s string of good defensive plays. The A’s cruised to their 10th win in 12 games — and their sixth straight victory over the Orioles, who lost their fifth straight.

Oakland had a four-run first inning, though the runs came from unlikely sources. Shortly after Hatteberg hit the first leadoff homer of his career, Melhuse hit his fourth homer of the season against Rodrigo Lopez (6-9).

Melhuse, the seldom-used backup to All-Star Ramon Hernandez, has a hit in every one of his five games in August — including a similar homer against Toronto last week.

Terrence Long had an RBI single in the third, and Ellis followed with a triple to the right-center gap.

Halama began the season as the A’s fifth starter, but was banished to the bullpen three months ago. He was resourceful and consistent — and very lucky to have Oakland’s strong defense behind him — in his second spot start in place of 15-game winner Mark Mulder, who’s probably out for the season with a broken leg bone near his hip.

After a rocky first inning, Halama held the Orioles to six hits and two runs while surviving through 6⅔ innings. Halama raised his glove in salute to the standing ovation he received on the way to the dugout.

Ricardo Rincon pitched out of a jam in the seventh, and Keith Foulke pitched the ninth for his AL-leading 35th save in 40 chances.

Lopez, who pitched a complete-game loss at the Coliseum last month, allowed eight hits and six runs in three innings.

“He just didn’t have it, from the first pitch on,” Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. “We tried to leave him in there to see if he could find it. We’d been going to our bullpen a lot lately … but it was just obvious it wasn’t going to happen.”

It was Lopez’s shortest start since May1, when he was forced to leave his start against Detroit after one inning with a muscle strain that kept him out of action for six weeks.

“It just wasn’t my day,” Lopez said. “I think it could be better, but I’m still working on the finishing part.”

Larry Bigbie and Brian Roberts homered for the Orioles, who also mounted a rally in the seventh. A’s reliever Chad Harville allowed Tim Raines Jr.’s RBI triple and Deivi Cruz’s run-scoring single before B.J. Surhoff lined out to second with two runners on.

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