OAKLAND, Calif. -- Barry Zito struggled despite carrying a shutout into the seventh, Bobby Crosby provided a major scare when he landed hard on his tender ankle, and the Oakland Athletics almost gave away their big lead late.
The A's certainly don't need such drama at this stage in September.
Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer, Mark Ellis followed with a solo shot, and Oakland staked Zito to a quick cushion before withstanding a ninth-inning rally to beat the Minnesota Twins 7-6 on Monday night.
And through all that, the A's still gained ground on the first-place Angels.
Zito (14-12) pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings and the A's pulled within 1½ games of the AL West leaders, who had the day off before opening a three-game series against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. Oakland went 5-5 on its recent road trip and returned for 10 games on its final homestand.
"It was tough shutting the door tonight," Zito said. "And we still picked up a half-game against Anaheim on its day off."
Swisher, a rookie batting ninth, connected for his 19th home run with a shot to right-center off Brad Radke with two outs in the second, then Ellis hit his career-high 10th homer to the stairs in left moments later. It marked the third time the A's hit back-to-back homers this year and the first since Aug. 27 at Baltimore, when Crosby and Eric Chavez did it. The Twins allowed consecutive homers for the fourth time.
Ellis tripled to lead off the first, then scored on Jason Kendall's groundout. Ellis fell a double short of the cycle and is batting .473 (35-for-74) in 17 games as a leadoff hitter this year.
"I just feel good," said Ellis, who says he can't remember ever hitting for the cycle at any level. "I didn't think anything of it until (Mark) Kotsay said, 'If you get a chance, keep running.'"
The A's welcomed back Crosby, who came off the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season -- this time after recovering from a broken left ankle. He also missed April 5 to May 29 with two broken ribs.
Crosby received a warm reception from the disappointing pennant race crowd of 15,262 when he batted for the first time in the second.
Manager Ken Macha rewrote his lineup with Crosby batting seventh after the reigning AL rookie of the year fielded grounders, ran the bases and took batting practice in the cage.
He drew a full-count walk in his first at-bat, flied out in the fourth and grounded out in the sixth and felt a twinge in his ankle and grimaced when he planted on first trying to beat out the throw from third. Marco Scutaro pinch hit for Crosby in the seventh and singled in a run.
Trainer Larry Davis said Crosby will be evaluated Tuesday before determining whether he will play in the middle game of the series. Crosby doesn't want to risk further damage that would keep him out if Oakland does make the playoffs.
"If I keep banging it, it's going to get worse and worse," he said. "It's painful."
Zito retired 10 of his first 12 batters, allowing only a two-out single to Joe Mauer in the first and Michael Cuddyer's fourth-inning single. Zito permitted just five base runners all game, and one reached on an error. He struck out five and walked two in his 112-pitch effort.
Justin Morneau and Cuddyer homered for Minnesota, which lost for the ninth time in 13 games and is all but out of playoff contention after winning the AL Central the past three years. The Twins again struggled to score before coming up with five runs in the ninth.
After Cuddyer led off with a homer against Keiichi Yabu, Morneau singled and Juan Castro followed with an RBI triple before the A's went to their rookie closer, Huston Street.
Jason Bartlett drove in a run with a groundout and Lew Ford singled two batters later. Mauer and Terry Tiffee hit back-to-back RBI singles to pull the Twins within 7-6. But Jacque Jones grounded out to second to end it.
"We made an effort there at the end," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Up until that, it looked ugly."
Radke (9-12) has been pitching with a sore shoulder, but Gardenhire isn't about to keep him from taking the mound.
"I won't shut him down unless he wants to be shut down," Gardenhire said.
Radke, trying for his first win in Oakland since May 19, 2000, allowed six hits and five runs in five innings, walked two and matched his season low with just one strikeout.
He may decide as soon as Tuesday to call it a year and rest his aching shoulder after topping 200 innings for the third straight season.
Radke made his 350th career appearance. ... Oakland RHP Rich Harden threw long toss in the outfield as he works to recover from a strained muscle in the back of his throwing shoulder that has sidelined him since Aug. 19. "I wish the news would be better on that front, but it's not," Macha said. ... Neither team took batting practice because the field was still in rough shape after the Oakland Raiders played Sunday night in the Coliseum against Kansas City. ... Longtime A's public address announcer Roy Steele was ill and missed the game. ... Twins DH Matthew LeCroy left in the eighth with a sore right big toe.