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Angels jump on A's early for series win

OAKLAND -- A's ace Sonny Gray allowed four runs in the first inning, and Albert Pujols dealt the final blow against the right-hander with a two-run home run in the second, helping the Angels secure a series-clinching 9-4 victory at the Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon.

Gray, who entered with an American League-leading 2.13 ERA, was done after five innings with a season-high six earned runs to his name, which ties a career high. Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney, meanwhile, rebounded from a three-run first inning to make it through seven, with just two hits allowed in his final six frames. He walked none and struck out six.

The A's tagged Heaney (6-2, 3.18 ERA) for five consecutive two-out hits in the first, including a two-run homer from Josh Phegley, but they didn't score again until the eighth, when Brett Lawrie hit his second homer in as many days and fourth in his past six games. The Angels tacked on two more runs in the eighth courtesy of run-scoring hits from C.J. Cron and David Freese.

The Angels rose above .500 again, taking a 67-66 record into Thursday's off-day.

"These guys were ready," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Sonny Gray is one of the best, not only in our league, but in baseball. When he doesn't hit some spots, you have to take advantage of it, and we did."

Three 5's for No. 5: Pujols' two-run homer in the second inning gave him 555 for his career, tying him with Manny Ramirez for 14th on the all-time list, and 35 on the season. It also gave the Angels six runs in the first two innings against Gray, who's making a strong case for the AL Cy Young Award. The Angels, last in the Majors in every important offensive stat in August, got their first four batters of the game on base and scored four first-inning runs.

Video: [email protected]: Pujols scorches two-run homer, ties Manny

"I had a lot of respect for him," Pujols said of Ramirez. "He's one of the best hitters to ever play this game, probably the best right-handed hitter coming out of the Dominican Republic. I think it's between him and Julio Cesar Franco, who was my hero. … It's very special. But I treat it the same way that I treated those guys that I passed earlier this year, because at the end of the day, that's not what I play for. I play to win and to get a championship." More >

It's not always Sonny: Gray's ERA rose to 2.36 with the loss, which now ranks second in the AL to Dallas Keuchel's 2.24. The right-hander, who had a 0.97 ERA in his previous eight day starts, had not allowed more than earned five runs in any outing this season. Gray (12-7) was done in by five singles in the first, which he finished at 26 pitches, and was at 64 pitches by the time he left the third. He had completed at least six innings in 15 of his previous 16 starts.

"Some of the pitches he made were exactly the ones he usually makes," Phegley said. "I think they just came in committed as a team to shooting him the other way. I think they've given up trying to hit him hard pull-side and just going with pitches and that allowed them to stay on breaking stuff better, too. It just seemed they were on a lot of pitches today. They have a great lineup and a lot of great hitters. It was a solid approach on their part." More >

Bouncing back: It looked like Heaney was in line for a rough start after a three-run first inning. But the rookie left-hander bounced back in a big way, giving up only two more hits over the next six innings to drop his ERA to 3.18. Heaney didn't get called up until late June and is looking like a dark-horse candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He's given up just three runs in 13 innings over his past two starts.

Video: [email protected]: Heaney strikes out six Angels in sixth win

"I was up in the zone," Heaney said of the first inning. "I was flat. I was falling behind. I couldn't make good pitches when I was behind in the count. Obviously, it's really nice the way the offense is going right now to put up four that I almost [gave] away. To get two back, get a three-run lead going -- you don't get many second chances, especially against a pitcher like Sonny. So for me, it was just trying to settle in, get the ball down in the zone." More >

"Ask me in about 30 days. Hopefully some things are getting a little more settled." -- Scioscia, when asked if he can sense that things are turning around

"We know, physically, that when he gets ahold of one, he can hit it as far as anyone, and he's showing that right now, getting some good swings off some really tough right-handed pitching, too." -- A's manager Bob Melvin, on Lawrie

Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun has reached base seven times in 10 plate appearances over his last couple of games and is batting .417 over his last four games. In his previous six games, Calhoun was 1-for-22.

Video: [email protected]: Calhoun races home on Gray's wild pitch

Angels: Garrett Richards (12-10, 3.80 ERA) gets the ball on Friday, after a day off on Thursday, when the Angels host a critical three-game series against the division-rival Rangers at 7:05 p.m. PT. Richards has given up just three runs in 14 2/3 innings against Texas this season. He'll be opposed by lefty Martin Perez (2-3, 5.15 ERA).

A's: Right-hander Aaron Brooks (1-1, 5.47 ERA), who was recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Saturday for his second stint with the A's this season, gets the ball for Friday's series opener against the Mariners at the Coliseum, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT. Brooks allowed two runs across six innings against the D-backs on Saturday.

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Jane Lee is a reporter for Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast.