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Angels end up as the best in West

A's lose showdown, yield division crown

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Once they got their chance to go head to head, the Anaheim Angels showed Oakland which team was best in the AL West.

After chasing the A's all September, the Angels scored three times in the eighth inning to beat Oakland, 5-4, yesterday and clinch their first division title in 18 years.

The teams were tied for first place when the series began Friday, and many expected the race to come down to the last day of the season. But Anaheim ended the suspense with two consecutive wins.

"I knew our guys weren't going to melt," manager Mike Scioscia said moments before getting soaked in champagne by several players. "We have a lot of very, very talented players."

That's for sure.

Darin Erstad hit a tying, two-run double, then scored on Garret Anderson's single as the Angels earned their first playoff berth since 2002, when they won the World Series as the wild card.

Vladimir Guerrero homered for the Angels, who trailed Oakland by one game last Monday. But after beating the A's, 10-0, Friday night, Anaheim won again to wrap it up.

The Angels have won seven of eight overall and are 20-7 in their last 27 road games.

"What we did to be at this point, nobody expected it," Anaheim leadoff hitter Chone Figgins said. "It's motivation. We were down four or five games, but we still had to play in our division. When you still have to play in your division and it's coming down to the home stretch, you get a little more energy."

It's still not clear whom the Angels will face in the first round of the playoffs. It will be either the Red Sox or Yankees, depending on the results of today's Angels-A's and Twins-Indians games.

The A's had won the division in three of the past four years, and made the playoffs in all of those seasons. They had lost in the first round each time.

Oakland's Eric Byrnes grabbed his helmet in frustration when he flied out to left to end it, and a celebration ensued on the mound by the Angels. It quickly moved into the clubhouse, where champagne and beer began flowing freely.

The A's had realigned their rotation to have Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson on the mound for the final weekend, but it didn't work out. Oakland fell to 12-18 in September -- a shocking development for a team that's been the best in baseball in the final month the past four years.

After seven strong innings by Zito, the lefthander told manager Ken Macha he couldn't go out for the eighth because his legs had become stiff the past two innings and it was affecting his pitching.

A's relievers Jim Mecir, Ricardo Rincon (1-1), and Octavio Dotel couldn't hold a 4-2 lead.