ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels looked so good last week while sweeping a three-game series in Oakland. That seems like a distant memory now.
The Angels dropped their third straight to the Athletics at home Wednesday night, as rookie A.J. Griffin outpitched Ervin Santana with eight scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory to improve to 6-0 in his first 11 big league starts.
"I think it's just a matter of opportunities we've had these last three games and taking advantage of those," Angels left fielder Vernon Wells said. "They've done it more than we have. That's why we're in the situation we are now in this series."
The only bright spot for the Angels was Albert Pujols' leadoff homer in the ninth against Sean Doolittle, before Ryan Cook came in to get one out for his 14th save. The homer made Pujols the first player in history with at least 30 in each of his first 12 big league seasons, and tied Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 28th place on the career list with No. 475.
The Athletics, who can sweep the four-game series by beating Angels ace Jered Weaver on Thursday, have won 15 of 18 and are 22 games over .500 (82-60) for the first time since the 2006 club finished 93-69.
Oakland, the AL wild-card leader, stayed three games behind first-place Texas in the AL West. But the surprising A's have a five-game cushion with 20 to play in the race for the league's final postseason spot.
"We still have a chance to catch them, but we know we've got our work cut out for us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Every game that ticks off obviously puts more focus on the next game."
Santana (8-12) was charged with two runs — one earned — and four hits over six innings. He struck out six.
Yoenis Cespedes' 18th homer was the 35th allowed by the eight-year veteran, the most in the majors and the most in his career.
"Ervin's always challenged hitters, and I think it's always been part of his game," Scioscia said. "But it's a double-edged sword. It's part of the reason why he's been successful, and at times it's going to get you. When you're challenging guys and missing over the heart of the plate, guys are going to get good looks at it."
For the eighth time this season, Santana's teammates didn't score while he was in the game — including five straight starts by the right-hander in which the Angels were shut out.
"A week ago we were playing great baseball, and right now we've hit a little bump in the road," Scioscia said. "It takes one good game to get you on track, one good inning. Unfortunately, we haven't swung the bats early in the games against Oakland in this series to give us a chance to do some things. But those guys have been pitching great all year, and this series they matched up well against us and are doing a good job."