ANAHEIM -- The Angels dealt the A's a serious blow when they swept them in Oakland last week, but in no way was it a knockout punch.
The A's -- no matter their resources or injuries or youth or critics -- aren't going anywhere. If it wasn't evident before, it was Monday night, when Jarrod Parker's gem resulted in a 3-1 loss for the Angels, snapping their six-game winning streak and pushing them 1 1/2 games back of the idle Orioles for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"We're getting to the point where they're not going away," said Dan Haren, the tough-luck loser after giving up just three runs in 6 1/3 innings. "It's going to be a fight to the finish, and the better team is going to win."
With a little more than three weeks left in the regular season, the A's -- by 3 1/2 games -- have been the better of the two, pacing the AL Wild Card race despite sporting the second-lowest payroll in the Majors and dealing with a host of misfortune.
Bartolo Colon, a significant contributor to their stellar rotation, is lost for the remainder of the season due to a violation of Major League Baseball's Drug Policy. Also missing is Brandon Inge, the starting third baseman who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery at the start of the month. And so is Brandon McCarthy, who required emergency brain surgery after being hit by Erick Aybar's comebacker on Wednesday -- the day the Angels swept a three-game series at Oakland Coliseum by outscoring the A's, 21-5.
No matter. The A's swept the Mariners over the weekend and took the first of a critical four-game set at Angel Stadium, improving to 20 games above .500 for the first time in six years and notching their 10th straight road win.
This is no longer surprising.
"We were surprised when they first started doing it in early August, but we're not surprised anymore," Angles outfielder Torii Hunter said. "They're playing the game, and they have really good arms over there."
And they have them in bunches, building organization-wide pitching depth either by grooming their own talent or trading away more expensive pieces for cost-controlled arms.
A perfect example is Parker, who was acquired from the D-backs in exchange for the more-seasoned Trevor Cahill and is turning in a stellar rookie season. On Monday, he gave up just one run in seven innings, scattering three hits and walking two while moving to 10-8 with a 3.56 ERA on the year.
His ERA in four starts against the Angels, who have sported one of the game's best offenses for most of the season, is 2.60.
"I can see him being an ace one day," said Hunter, one of three Angels to reach scoring position off Parker with a two-out RBI double in the third inning. "He's got really good stuff. Good off-speeds, two-seamer. He really mixes his pitches up."
An eclectic mix of Angels relievers -- Nick Maronde, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden -- managed to keep the Angels within two after Haren departed with only 76 pitches under his belt. But Ryan Cook -- also acquired in the Cahill deal -- pitched a scoreless eighth, getting Albert Pujols to pop out with Mike Trout on second and two outs, and Grant Balfour pitched a clean ninth inning to give Oakland its fourth straight victory.
"It was definitely a big game for us," said A's second baseman Cliff Pennington, whose team is also just three games back of the Rangers in the AL West. "They came into our place and did what they needed to do, and we have to come into theirs and try to take care of our business. To get the first win is a big step."
Haren, who got the win by pitching six innings of one-run ball in Oakland on Wednesday, noticed a different approach from the A's when facing them for a second straight time.
"They weren't really worried about working counts or anything," he said. "They were just going to swing at the first good pitch they saw."
That was evident in the way the A's scored. Coco Crisp hit the first pitch of the game for a triple, then scored on an RBI groundout by Seth Smith that came off the second pitch of the game. To lead off the fifth, Brandon Moss hit a 1-1 splitter over the right-center field fence for his 17th homer. And to lead off the sixth, Pennington took 1-0, 88-mph fastball over the right-center field fence for his fifth homer.
Those were the only blemishes on the night for Haren, who at one point retired 12 straight and eventually notched his third straight quality start, continuing an overall resurgence by the Angels' rotation.
Parker was just better.
"The guy pitched a good ballgame," Haren said. "It's just a matter of bouncing back. Right now, there's no time to be sulking in losses. We have to come out tomorrow and win a ballgame."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.