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A'S, 'JAYS KEEP PENNANT RACE IDEAS IN CHECK

A week ago, it looked like a pair of pennant races were shaping up in the American League.

That, though, was before Oakland and Toronto decided to wreck everyone else's fun.The A's beat Seattle 3-1 Sunday for their sixth straight victory. They take a six-game lead in the AL West into tonight's opener of a three-game series at home against second-place Minnesota.

A few days ago, the edge was only 41/2 games and the Athletics were in a slump in which they'd lost six of seven since trading Jose Canseco. But Oakland has reversed itself, and with injured Mark McGwire back in the lineup, is ready for the Twins.

"You think about it - `Minnesota's coming in; Minnesota's coming in,' " A's relief ace Dennis Eckersley said. "But what you're really thinking about is, `We've got a chance to win it. Right now.' "

In the East, Toronto was only 11/2 games ahead of Baltimore last week. But the Blue Jays have won eight of 10 while the Orioles have dropped six of seven, meaning Toronto has a five-game lead for the first time since July 23.

"I've said all along that it's always a pennant race until you're mathematically eliminated. Right now we're not playing well enough to win," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said.

The A's beat Seattle for the 14th straight time at the Coliseum. They also sent the Mariners to their 11th loss in a row overall, one short of the team record. Oakland is 10-0 against the Mariners this year.

Bob Welch, making his first start since his third trip to the disabled list, and Kelly Downs (5-5) held the Mariners hitless until Harold Reynolds singled with one out in the ninth inning. Jeff Russell relieved and gave up Greg Briley's RBI double before finishing for his 29th save, and first with Oakland.

Eckersley had pitched three times in the previous four days, so the Athletics bullpen ace was not available. That left it up to Russell, one of the players acquired in the trade for Canseco.

"That's another reason why Russell was so attractive to us," La Russa said.

Welch worked four innings in his return from an elbow injury. He left after throwing 46 pitches.

Welch and Downs were trying to complete the seventh combined no-hitter in the major leagues. The A's own one of them, on Sept. 28, 1975, when Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers beat California 5-0.

Erik Hanson (8-16) lost in his first start since 21 days because of a strained lower back.

Twins 6, Angels 2

Kirby Puckett reached the 100-RBI mark for the second time in his career as Minnesota beat California at the Metrodome.

Puckett's streak of five straight hits ended when he drove in a run with a groundout in the third inning. He had 121 RBIs in 1988, along with 99 in 1987 and 96 in 1986.

Scott Erickson (12-10) pitched a six-hitter for his fourth straight victory. He has five complete games and three shutouts in his last 12 starts after pitching no complete games in his first 17 starts of the season.

Blue Jays 7, Rangers 2

John Olerud and Turner Ward each homered and hit an RBI double as Toronto beat Kevin Brown in Texas.

Brown (19-9) gave up five runs on 10 hits and three walks in 72/3 innings. He is trying to join Ferguson Jenkins as the only pitchers to win 20 games for the Rangers.

Olerud doubled home a run in the first inning and hit a three-run homer in the seventh. Ward hit a solo homer in the eighth and an RBI double in the ninth.

Jimmy Key (10-13) did not allow a runner past second base in the first six innings, but ran into trouble in the seventh. Duane Ward pitched two innings for his 11th save.

Brewers 3, Orioles 1

Rookie Cal Eldred won his seventh straight start and struck out a career-high 12 in pitching Milwaukee past Baltimore at Camden Yards.

Eldred (8-1) gave up four hits and walked one. He has a 1.26 ERA after 10 starts.

Eldred's streak of 23 straight scoreless innings ended when Tim Hulett tripled in the eighth and came home on a groundout. Eldred has allowed only three runs in his last 532/3 innings.

Royals 3, Yankees 0

Dennis Rasmussen, cut twice earlier this season, pitched seven shutout innings in his debut with Kansas City.

Rasmussen (1-0) won for the first time in the majors since last Sept. 10 while with San Diego. He was released by the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore's Triple-A Rochester team this year, and also missed time with tendinitis in his left shoulder.

Rasmuseen gave up six hits in his return to Yankee Stadium. He has pitched for New York and also Cincinnati in the last six years.

Jeff Montgomery went two innings for his career-high 34th save. Kevin Koslofski homered off Melido Perez (12-14).

First baseman Wally Joyner left the team Sunday to return to Utah to be with his father, who is ill. He's expected back Tuesday in Baltimore.

Felix Fermin singled home the go-ahead run in the 13th inning and Cleveland completed a three-game sweep at Chicago.

Indians 2, White Sox 1

The Indians won their fourth in a row. The White Sox, who began the weekend 7 1/2 games behind Oakland, lost their fourth straight and fell 10 1/2 games behind the A's.

Kenny Lofton singled in the 13th off Bobby Thigpen (1-3), stole his league-leading 54th base and scored on Fermin's single. Eric Plunk (8-3) was the winner and Steve Olin got his 13th save.

Tigers 7, Red Sox 2

Travis Fryman drove in three runs and Detroit took advantage of Boston's misplays to win at Fenway Park.

Errors by reliever Matt Young, third baseman Wade Boggs and right fielder Tom Brunansky set up four runs.