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OAK@MIN: Smith launches a solo dinger in the fifth

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a home run-hitting kind of day for the A's in Minnesota on Saturday.

A season high-tying four were counted against the Twins, and by night's end, the A's were enjoying life in the win column for the eighth time in their last nine games.

Their 9-3 victory, aided by long balls from Chris Carter, Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and Brandon Moss, secured the series win -- their third in last four tries on the road -- and pushed them to a season high-tying two games over the .500 mark for the first time since May 14, as they now sit 1 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card spot.

"We're having a lot of fun," Carter said. "These kind of games make you more relaxed, instead of being in one-run games in the eighth and ninth inning."

"Obviously the guys have been doing it for awhile now, but I feel it's just getting more consistent," starter Tommy Milone said. "We know that it's there, and it was nice to see it tonight."

This type of play, helped along by continued pitching excellence -- on Saturday, it was rookie Milone, who worked six innings of two-run ball -- could easily keep the A's in contention in the second half. Such talk was joked about by baseball pundits in recent years, but the 2012 version of the green and gold appears serious about the push.

And why shouldn't they be? Though last year's team was said to have a better ball club on paper, its offense underperformed on a near everyday basis. Oakland's reformed lineup, though lacking in experience, is finding ways to get it done.

And the long ball, sparse in Oakland over the past decade, has been a big part of that. The A's have 88 home runs through their first 88 games, after recording just 47 in as many contests last season.

"It's really nice," said Smith, whose fifth-inning rocket shot landed in the upper deck of right-center field. "You got the guys up front that can set the table and also hit some out, and then from [Josh] Reddick down on the lineup, it's pretty deep. We feel anybody has a chance to go deep at any time."

"Really, throughout the lineup, we have that," manager Bob Melvin said. "It's not necessarily in the middle of the lineup. We have guys down in the lineup that can hit the ball over the fence. I think that's been one of our strengths this year, that we can hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Of the bevy of homers, 14 of them have come from the first-base platoon duo of Carter and Moss, who appeared in the same lineup for the first time Saturday, as Moss started in right field. Neither was on the A's Opening Day roster, a reflection of the seemingly endless turnover experienced by a club that has nevertheless managed to remain within striking distance of a playoff berth.

Moss has 11 home runs in 27 games, and Carter, whose three-run shot in the first off of Twins starter Cole De Vries jumpstarted the power parade, has tallied four in eight.

"That gives us the momentum, especially with Tommy out on the mound, when we feel confident in knowing what he can do," Melvin said. "So that was kind of the ice breaker for us.

"We've always said, you play your way into the lineup. If you're going to force my hand, swing the bat consistently well. That's what he's done."

Meanwhile, the starting pitching has proved nearly flawless. Milone has surely done his part, racking up nine wins and a 3.54 ERA through 19 starts, the last five of which have resulted in two earned runs allowed or less.

The 25-year-old southpaw scattered 10 hits against the Twins, tallying four strikeouts and one walk along the way. Brian Dozier's leadoff home run in the third marked Minnesota's lone run until the sixth, when Joe Mauer scored on Justin Morneau's RBI single.

Josh Willingham naturally couldn't let the game conclude without hitting another home run against his former team, with his eighth-inning solo shot off of lefty Jordan Norberto representing his fifth in as many games vs. the A's this year. But the Twins failed to score thereafter, easily allowing the A's to improve to 23-13 since dropping nine straight.

De Vries allowed the first three Oakland home runs -- Carter's three-run shot in the first, Cespedes' two-run, opposite-field homer in the third and Smith's solo shot in the fifth. Moss', a sixth-inning leadoff blast, came against reliever Anthony Swarzak.

Smith added an RBI triple in the ninth, barely missing yet another home run. His first proved impressive enough, though -- as did Cespedes' into territory rarely reached by right-handers at Target Field.

"It didn't go the farthest, but I don't know that he got all of it, and to hit it that high and to right-center field in a deep part of the park speaks to his power," Melvin said. "There isn't a park or a particular part of any park he can't hit a home run to."

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