Bengie Molina and Casey Kotchman hit consecutive homers in the seventh inning to break a tie, and the Angels beat the Devil Rays 5-4 on Friday night to maintain their one-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
Molina's homer was his 11th of the season, one more than last year, when he was limited to 97 games because of a strained left calf and a broken right index finger. He hit a career-high 14 homers in 2000 and matched that total in 2003.
"Bengie's probably the most surprised guy when a ball goes out of the park, because that's not on his mind," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has power, but he's also a very good technical hitter and he's not going to force things. But every team has to respect his power."
The game featured three players who are among the league's top four in stolen bases -- Carl Crawford, Julio Lugo and the Angels' Chone Figgins.
But the Angels paid particularly close attention to rookie leadoff hitter Joey Gathright with two outs in the third and Jorge Cantu at the plate. Right-hander Paul Byrd pitched out, then threw over to first base twice before Gathright stole second on another pitchout and continued to third on a throwing error by Molina. But Cantu struck out.
"Early in the ballgame there was a lot of running," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. "Then the running ceased and the long balls started. Unfortunately, they hit one more than we did."
Molina drove starter Doug Waechter's first pitch of the seventh into the left field bullpen. Kotchman, recalled from Triple-A on Thursday after pitcher Jarrod Washburn went on the disabled list, sent a 2-0 pitch into the right field seats for his first major league homer. He said he was going to give the ball to his father, Tom Kotchman, a longtime Angels scout and minor league manager.
"When you get a chance to play, you just want to try to make the most out of the opportunities that you get," Kotchman said. "I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and get on base for the guy who was hitting behind me."
The 22-year-old first baseman, picked 13th overall in the June 2001 draft, was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., and played high school ball there. So did Waechter. But neither of them remembered their paths crossing until now.
"I don't think I ever met him, but I heard a lot about him," Waechter said. "Whether it was a good pitch or a bad pitch, he hit it well."
Scot Shields (7-6) pitched two perfect innings in relief for the win. Francisco Rodriguez worked the ninth, allowing Travis Lee's solo homer, and earned his 26th save.
Waechter (4-7) allowed five runs -- four earned -- and seven hits in seven innings, including three homers. The right-hander, whose previous six starts were at home, had not allowed a home run in 31 innings before Kansas City's Terrence Long took him deep last Saturday in the Devil Rays' 7-3 victory.
Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff led off the fourth with his 15th homer of the season and second in two nights, trimming the Angels' lead to 3-2. The Devil Rays tied it in the fifth on Cantu's bases loaded sacrifice fly.
Gathright legged out a double to left-center leading off the game. He scored from second when Byrd's errant pickoff throw glanced off second baseman Adam Kennedy's glove into short right field.
"They have a scrappy team and they have more speed, I think, than anybody in the league," Byrd said. "Their leadoff hitter is amazing. He scored from second on an overthrow. I've never seen anybody run around the bases as fast as he did. He must not be getting on a lot if he's not one of the top base stealers."
Orlando Cabrera, the only Angels hitter to have faced Waechter before, drove his fourth pitch of the game to left for his fifth homer. Waechter then walked Jeff DaVanon, who stole second and continued to third on the first of catcher Toby Hall's two throwing errors. Garret Anderson drove in DaVanon with a two-out single for a 2-1 lead.
The Angels took a 3-1 lead in the third when DaVanon singled, took second on a short wild pitch and ended up at third when Hall's throw went into center field for his sixth error this season -- matching last year's total. Vladimir Guerrero hit a sacrifice fly, his 37th RBI in 34 games.
Byrd allowed three runs -- two earned -- and four hits in six innings. He is 0-2 in his last four starts after going 4-0 in his previous six outings.
Kotchman started in place of Darin Erstad, who sat out with inflammation in his right hip. ... Friday was Crawford's 24th birthday. The outfielder entered the game with 565 hits, 46 triples and 157 stolen bases. Only two other players since 1900 have matched those numbers before turning 24 -- Ty Cobb and Sherry Magee -- almost 100 years ago. ... Hall's errors increased Tampa Bay's total to 88, the most in the majors. ... Huff, who hit a career-high 34 homers two seasons ago, has seven in his last 19 games.