ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Superb pitching has enabled the Oakland Athletics to scramble back into the AL West race, and it looks like it's going to keep them there.
Barry Zito combined with two relievers on a seven-hitter to win his fifth straight start, Mark Ellis and Mark Kotsay homered, and the Athletics crept closer in the AL West race with a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night.
Oakland, a major league-best 32-13 since May 29, took two of three from the Angels to climb within 6½ games of the defending division champs. The Athletics haven't been this close to first place since May 14, when they were six games off the pace.
"This was big," Zito said. "We've got to send a message to them that we're coming."
The A's began the season 17-32 and were as many as 12½ games out first. But they have won 22 of their last 28 games and 11 of 16 on the road to go a season-best four games over .500. Combined with the Yankees' 8-4 win at Texas, the A's have moved into second place for the first time since May 2.
"Our guys are playing extremely intense baseball, and it's fun to watch," manager Ken Macha said. "These guys are just playing it one series at a time, trying to win as many series as we can. I think what was impressive was that we came back after losing the first game to win the next two."
Zito (8-8) allowed five hits over seven innings, struck out six and walked two in his first scoreless outing this season. The 2002 Cy Young winner got his record to .500 for the first time.
"The toughest thing for a baseball player is when they project negative situations when they haven't happened yet, and that's what I was doing early in the season," Zito said. "But now I just try to project positive situations.
"It's all mental. I mean, I've made a few mechanical adjustments, but if your mental game is not in place, you're not going to have success."
The Angels, 9-10 since a season-high eight-game winning streak, put runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings, but couldn't get the clutch hit. Bengie Molina celebrated his 31st birthday with four hits, tying a career high, but three of them came with no one on base.
Juan Rivera stranded a man at third in the fourth with a double-play grounder, and Chone Figgins did likewise in the fifth with a groundout.
Zito, who pitched no-hit ball through the first 7 1/-3 innings of his 7-2 victory last Friday against Texas, frustrated the Angels again in the seventh when he struck out Adam Kennedy with runners at second and third. Los Angeles entered the game with a major league-leading .305 average with runners in scoring position.
"I didn't really have great command," Zito said. "Usually I'm living on that inside corner to righties, and I was missing in a little bit tonight. But my off-speed pitches really got me out of jams. My changeup was huge and luckily my curveball was on."
Justin Duchscherer pitched the eighth inning and Huston Street got three outs for his seventh save in 11 attempts.
Paul Byrd (9-6) lost for the first time in five decisions, allowing three runs and six hits over six innings and striking out four. It was the eighth time in 19 starts this season that he did not walk a batter, but he was quite hard on himself afterward.
"It's not our offense on this one, it's me," he said. "I'm not happy with it. People will say I kept the team in the game, but the bottom line is that tonight we needed no runs up there, and I gave up three. So that's frustrating.
"Their staff's going through a hot streak right now and they're all throwing well," Byrd said. "You could say our offense is slumping, but good pitching beats good hitting."
Zito and Byrd matched zeros until the fifth. Nick Swisher lined a single off the glove of second baseman Kennedy as he dove to his right, then Ellis drove a 1-1 pitch to left-center for his second homer of the season.
Kotsay, who was stranded after a leadoff double in the fourth, homered his next time up leading off the sixth to put Oakland ahead 3-0. Eight of Kotsay's nine home runs this season have come on the road.