Clutch homer, catch sink Rangers
Anderson's shot provides lead; Hunter's grab holds it
ANAHEIM -- The homer was nice, but the catch was better.
Garret Anderson's two-run shot was a beauty, a towering drive to right field powered by the no-doubt sound of bat hitting ball that reverberated throughout the park milliseconds ahead of the hometown crowd's roaring approval.
Torii Hunter eclipsed that, though, when he raced back on Marlon Byrd's drive to dead center, timed his leap with Gold Glove precision and reached back over the wall to nullify a near game-tying two-run homer.
Two plays -- one created a lead and the other preserved it -- coupled with a managerial hunch and a strong outing by Ervin Santana, pushed the Angels to a 3-1 victory over the Rangers on Friday night to extend their lead in the American League West to 17 games and trim their magic number to clinch to 11.
"It was a long run, and the ball was beating me there, so I kind of caught the ball, but I was going face first into the wall, so I ate the green monster," Hunter said. "I tasted it, too. It was pretty nasty."
Santana was certain his inside fastball had been parked, and he turned and could only watch with a blank expression as Hunter protected a tight two-run lead by crashing into the wall.
"If we don't have a guy like Torii, we don't make that play," said Santana, who won for the first time in his last four starts.
The victory was emblematic of a club that wins with pitching, defense and situational hitting, with this particular situation being the right hit at the right time.
The hunch was Mike Scioscia's, the Angels manager who was looking for a productive bat to plug into the second spot in the lineup with his usual suspects all banged up by injuries.
With Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar all down, Scioscia turned to Anderson, who hadn't batted in the two-hole in nine years.
Down a run on Milton Bradley's broken-bat RBI single in the fourth, Anderson went to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning for his third at-bat of the game. Twice he'd hit balls to the right side of the diamond.
In his first at-bat, he yanked a changeup foul before hitting a comebacker that Rangers right-hander Dustin Nippert fielded easily. Then in the fourth inning, Anderson hit a soft liner to second.
His table was set in the sixth after Chone Figgins got aboard with a one-out single. Anderson took a fastball for ball one before Nippert was able to get his changeup over for a strike.
Playing as the designated hitter on Friday, Anderson didn't miss the second changeup and hit a majestic shot that sailed over Nelson Cruz's head and into the seats for Anderson's 14th home run this season.
It was also his second career homer while batting second in the order.
"We had a lot of line drives that were outs, but one pitch changed the game," Anderson said.
Juan Rivera also added a sac fly in the sixth to hand Santana a 3-1 lead.
The right-hander had allowed only seven runs over his last three starts but couldn't earn a decision, win or lose. On Friday, Santana (14-5) was in command all night, scattering five hits while issuing one walk and allowing just the lone run.
Santana also punched out seven and handed the ball to Francisco Rodriguez, who tossed a perfect ninth inning for his 52nd save. Nippert (1-4) took the loss.
"He had great command tonight and great mechanics," Scioscia said. "He maintained his velocity and his stuff all the way through eight innings and pitched with his back against the wall for really the whole game because we didn't score that many runs. It was a great effort."
No single effort, though, was greater than Hunter's who has earned the nickname Spiderman for his ability to climb the wall and quash would-be homers. That talent has produced seven straight Gold Gloves.
Catches like his robbery of Byrd on Friday come with a price, but he'll gladly remit every time.
"That was one of my favorites, man, 'cause I went face first and everybody talked about me and it felt like Mike Tyson hit me," Hunter said. "It was ludicrous."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.