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Updated: Sunday, August 31, 2003 9:38 PM EDT
MLB RECAP
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
3 6 0
Oakland Athletics
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
4 4 0
W Harden (4-3)
L Gonzalez (6-7)
S Bradford (2)
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OAKLAND 4 TAMPA BAY 3
 

OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Rookie Rich Harden struck out a career-high 10 batters over seven innings as the Oakland Athletics extended their season-high winning streak to nine games with a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays .

Harden (4-3), who snapped a personal three-game losing streak and won for the first time in five starts, allowed three runs and five hits. He struggled in the first three innings and gave up a two-run homer to Aubrey Huff in the third.

But after Huff's homer, Harden did not yield another hit. The 21-year-old righthander allowed just two runners the rest of the way before giving way to lefthander Ricardo Rincon .

"It makes the outing feel a little better at the end of the day," Harden said. "I felt good out there and got a chance to work on my fastball, command and throw some pitches."

Oakland rallied from a 3-1 deficit by scoring three times in the fifth against Tampa Bay's Jeremi Gonzalez . Chris Singleton evened the contest with a sacrifice fly and former Devil Ray Jose Guillen put Oakland ahead by lining Gonzalez's first pitch down the left field line for a double.

Rincon allowed a hit in 1 1/3 frames and Chad Bradford got the final two outs for his second save in five opportunities, securing Oakland's 13th win in 15 games.

Gonzalez (6-7) went the distance, allowing just four hits.

Oakland starters won their seventh straight decision and Harden's victory followed similar outings by Ted Lilly and Tim Hudson in the three-game series.

" Rich Harden was the guy today," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "He had a bunch of strikeouts. His command was pretty good and he had good velocity on his fastball. He probably made two mistakes all day - the 0-2 pitch to (Rocco) Baldelli and a misplaced fastball to Huff."

Rincon allowed a leadoff single to Crawford in the eighth. Crawford advanced to second on Baldelli's groundout and then stole his second base of the game. The speedy outfielder attempted to score the tying run on a wild pitch, but Rincon perfectly blocked the plate and catcher Ramon Hernandez made an outstanding throw.

"He got spiked but he really blocked the plate well," Hernandez said of Rincon's play. "He paid for it but he really did a great job trying to stop the score and hold on to the baseball."

After Crawford was thrown out, center fielder Terrence Long made a running catch on Huff's fly ball to end the eighth.

"It's great having the team playing the way it is now," Harden said. "Everything's coming together and picking everybody up. It's good to see that happening."

Rincon opened the ninth by retiring Travis Lee . After former Athletic Adam Piatt was announced as a pinch hitter, Macha summoned Chad Bradford . Bradford fanned Piatt and third baseman Eric Chavez made a nice stop on Julio Lugo 's slow grounder.

The A's (82-55) remained two games ahead of Seattle in the American League West Division.

"I feel our intensity has been great," Macha said. "We went to Boston and had some dramatic games there where everybody picked up their intensity level and it seems like it has carried over."

It was a frustrating day for the Devil Rays , who have dropped nine of their last 11 games and 13 of their last 14 visits to Network Associates Coliseum.

Coaches Lee Elia and John McLaren were ejected in the fifth inning by first base umpire Joe Brinkman for arguing a disputed check swing to Hernandez that would have been strike three.

Hernandez appeared to swing, but Brinkman ruled he hadn't, giving him a walk. Moments later, a blue tray from Tampa Bay's dugout landed on the field. Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella was initially ejected, but after he pleaded his case, Elia and McLaren were tossed.

"I know umpires have difficult jobs," Piniella said. "I understand that, I really do. But that one, there's just no rhyme or reason for missing a call like that. There really isn't."

After catching the break, the A's began their rally. Long singled up the middle, loading the bases. Frank Menechino reached on infield single that plated Erubiel Durazo , who led off with a walk. Hernandez scored on Chris Singleton 's sacrifice fly and Jose Guillen 's double gave Oakland a one-run lead.

The Devil Rays still were upset about the call and felt it dictated the rest of the game.

"That's as blatant a check swing as I have ever seen and I have been up in the big leagues since 1969," Piniella said. "I don't see first of all how you can miss it from first base and I really don't see how you need help behind home plate calling it. The guy (Hernandez) spun around. The bat came all the way across the hitting zone."

Huff, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games, opened the scoring in the first inning with a single. But in the second, the A's answered when Miguel Tejada hit his 24th homer of the season.


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