ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Taking two of three from the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics opened a 1½ -game lead in an AL West race that has seen all four teams stay in contention going into the final two months.
Mark Kotsay drove in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning single, and the Athletics beat the Angels 3-2 Wednesday.
The teams don't meet again until late September, when they play seven of their final 10 games head to head -- including a season-ending four-game showdown at Anaheim.
"That's what it's all about. It should be fun," Oakland catcher Jason Kendall said. "Obviously they're the team to beat in our division because they've won it the last two years. So every game with them is intense and kind of like Groundhog Day. "
Wednesday's game was the 15th one-run decision in 31 meetings between the teams since the start of last season, and the 21st that was decided by two runs or fewer. The Angels won the division title in each of the previous two years, following back-to-back division titles by the A's.
"They're hard-fought games and neither team backs down," Angels reliever Scot Shields said. "We know it's going to come down to the end again, so we've just got to play our game up until then. Hopefully, we can make those last four games mean something and take advantage of it."
Shields (6-7) relieved Kelvim Escobar after seven innings, giving up a leadoff walk to Mark Ellis and a single by Kendall that put runners at the corners. Kotsay followed with a ground single through the right side that scored Ellis with the tiebreaking run.
"These guys have been our biggest rivals for the last several years, way before I even got here," A's outfielder Jay Payton said. "They're intense games and we know that to win our division, we're going to have to go through those guys. And they'll have to go through us to win it."
Payton, who homered in the first two games of the series, was hit by a fastball on the right hand two outs after Kotsay's hit. He started yelling at Shields, then had to be led away by manager Ken Macha and third base coach Ron Washington. After a delay of several minutes, Shields struck out Nick Swisher with the bases loaded.
"It was a reaction of getting hit on the hand with a 94 mph fastball and thinking it's broken. So I'm going to be teed off until I find out it's not," said Payton, was plunked for only the second time in 371 plate appearances this season. "I wasn't trying to go after anybody. It probably looked a lot worse than it really was. I don't think he was trying to throw at me. From what I understand, he's a pretty good guy."
When the Athletics visited Angel Stadium in early May, there was an altercation between Kendall and Angels pitcher John Lackey that touched off a bench-clearing incident. Kendall charged the mound after Lackey accused him of trying to get hit with a pitch.
"Off the field, we don't seem to hate each other. In fact, we're pretty cordial and friendly," A's closer Huston Street said. "But after that first pitch is thrown, the same two guys that were hugging each other before the game are cussing each other in the middle of the game."
Kiko Calero (3-1) allowed one hit in 1 1-3 innings. Street, pitching on his 23rd birthday, worked two perfect innings for his 23rd save in 30 chances.
Marco Scutaro was 0-for-18 this season against Angels pitching before he doubled with one out in the fifth. Escobar threw a wild pitch on strike three to Ellis, who was thrown out at first by catcher Jose Molina. Scutaro alertly scooted home all the way from second on the play, giving Oakland a 2-1 lead, but rookie Howie Kendrick tied it in the bottom half with an RBI single.
"Marco did a great job of running the bases," Washington said. "When the ball got away, he was busting to third base. The play was in front of him and he recognized that Molina was going to throw to first base without checking him, so he just kept going. He was already coming around the bag -- so if Molina would have faked, he would have gotten him."
Escobar gave up two runs and three hits. Oakland's Esteban Loaiza allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
- Adam Kennedy extended his career-best hitting streak to 16 games with a leadoff single in the third.
- Lackey was named Wednesday as AL pitcher of the month for July -- two months after completing the first winless month of his five-year career.
- Thomas is 11 RBI behind one of Oakland's most famous native sons, Joe DiMaggio, who served as a vice president and coach for the Athletics after they moved from Kansas City to the Bay Area in 1968.