ANAHEIM -- It wasn't just going to be a victory.

It was going to be a dressing-down of an All-Star pitcher in arch-enemy territory.

It was going to be a 25-man catharsis, is what it was going to be.

But what had the looks of a breezy beatdown early on turned out to be was a teeth-grinder of the tallest order.

Think Yankees-Orioles on a long, humid Thursday afternoon at Camden Yards.

The A's jumped out to six-run lead Wednesday, pounding Joe Saunders out of the game with five runs in the top of the second. And while they held on for a 6-5 victory in the finale of a three-game series at Angel Stadium, snapping their streak of consecutive winless series at 12, a catharsis it wasn't.

"More like an aggressive sigh of relief," said closer Brad Ziegler.

Ziegler was the last of five Oakland relievers, and he had to survive an error by shortstop Bobby Crosby to open the bottom of the ninth and a one-out walk to pick up his sixth save in six chances. Ziegler escaped trouble to end it by inducing Juan Rivera to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

The A's, who won the series opener but lost the second game, hadn't won a series since July 7-10, when they took three of four games from the Mariners. They split four games in Seattle last weekend, snapping an Oakland-record streak of 11 consecutive losing sets.

"Absolutely awesome," said Crosby, whose two-run double was one of the big blows of Oakland's five-run second inning. "Especially after I air-mailed that one. It was a long game."

Three hours and 33 minutes, to be exact, but the A's didn't waste any time getting to Angels All-Star lefty Joe Saunders, nicking him for a run in the first when Rajai Davis, who had a career-high four hits, opened the game with a single off Saunders' pitching hand, stole second base and scored on a single by Emil Brown.

It got worse for Saunders in the second, which Daric Barton opened with a single before stealing second base himself -- his first bag of the year. Eric Patterson's single drove home Barton, and after another single by Davis, Crosby made it 4-0 with his double. Brown followed with his 13th homer of the year, ending Saunders' shortest night of the season.

"I'd be curious if that ball that Davis hit off his [Saunders'] hand affected him," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He didn't look the same after that."

A's starter Gio Gonzalez, who struck out two in the first inning, didn't look the same after that. The rookie lefty walked the bases loaded before wiggling out of trouble in the bottom of the second, getting a huge break when home-plate ump Paul Schreiber rang up Erick Aybar on a low called third strike with one out.

"I thought it was a great call," Geren deadpanned, knowing full well that replays showed the ball well out of the strike zone.

Schrieber couldn't help Gonzalez two innings later, though, as the command issues came back to haunt him during the Angels' four-run fourth, which featured a walk, a hit batter, a run-scoring groundout, an RBI single by Mark Teixeira and a two-run double by Aybar.

Gonzalez, who wasn't available to the media after the game because he was having a long, animated conversation with A's bench coach Don Wakamatsu in the weight room, didn't record an out in the inning and left with a line of four runs on three hits and five walks and a hit batter over three innings.

"He kind of lost control of the strike zone a little bit," Geren said.

The Angels cut the lead to one on Aybar's RBI single in the fifth, but the parade of relievers helped the A's, who have won the opener of their past six series, finally close one of those them out on a winning note.

"It would have been great to blow them out," Crosby said with a tired smile. "But there wasn't any panic. We just made it more interesting ... the bullpen did a great job tonight."

Lefty Alan Embree was first up, getting the three outs that Gonzalez couldn't get in the fourth and one more in the fifth. Then came righty Santiago Casilla and lefty Jerry Blevins, who teamed up for 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Deposed closer Huston Street was next, striking out three of the five batters he faced in a perfect outing that earned him the victory, and then came Ziegler.

"They've got some guys in the back of their bullpen that throw the ball well," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "And they got it done."