ANAHEIM — The A's welcomed Eric Chavez and Ryan Sweeney back to the lineup Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels.
Two other crucial players, Frank Thomas and Mike Sweeney, showed up in the clubhouse before the game as they rehab on the disabled list.
A case could be made that the man who took the mound and pitched the A's to a 6-1 victory is just as key to the team's fortunes over the second half of the season.
Rookie left-hander Greg Smith wiped away memories of a frustrating month and held the Angels to four hits in recording the second complete game of his brief major league career.
Thus, the A's landed the first punch in this three-game series pitting the American League West's top teams. Oakland shaved the home team's lead in the standings to 3½ games.
The A's and Angels have both gotten the job done the same way this season, riding standout pitching with runs often tough to come by.
And unless the A's acquire a big bat in a trade, or Thomas and Mike Sweeney get healthy and catch fire, they are likely to go as far as their starting pitching takes them.
That's where Smith, with a whopping 16 games of big league experience, is likely to play a pivotal role.
Smith (5-6) also pitched his first complete game at Angel Stadium on April 29 in just his fifth appearance. He was on the losing end of a 2-0 decision that night against Joe Saunders.
After getting called up April 9 when injuries hit the A's rotation, Smith posted a 2.73 ERA for April. That was followed by a 2.97 ERA in May. But his first five June outings resulted in a 1-2 record and 5.67 ERA. That included 15 walks over those five starts. He allowed just 23 walks over his first 10 starts.
He made things easy on himself Monday, getting several outs on the first pitch and keeping his pitch count low. The Angels' third and fourth hitters, Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, were a combined 0-for-8. Smith retired Guerrero twice on first-pitch balls in the air.
Oddly, Smith recorded nine of his first 24 outs on fly balls to right.
The A's gave him a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Mark Ellis' RBI ground out and Daric Barton's run-scoring single to center.
Those would prove to be the winning runs against the Angels, who have relied on their own pitching to climb atop the division.
Entering Monday, Los Angeles had been held to five runs or less in 30 of their past 37 games but were 18-12 in those 30 games.
The Angels had an 16-19 mark in games in which they scored three runs or fewer. If they were to keep that .457 winning percentage in such games over the entire season, it would rank fourth all-time in major league history.
Smith got lots of assistance in the victory, starting with Chavez and
Chavez, who missed the previous three games with soreness in his right shoulder, got the start at DH and delivered a two-run single in the seventh to extend the A's lead to 4-1.
The A's were aided that inning by a dropped fly ball from Angels left fielder Juan Rivera that went for a two-base error.
Chavez said the plan was for him to return to third base tonight.
Ryan Sweeney, who missed three games due to a sprained left ankle, hit leadoff and went 2-for-5 with an RBI double and a run scored.
Angels starter Jon Garland (7-5) went six innings but only two of his four runs allowed were earned.
Contact Joe Stiglich at email@example.com.
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