04/19/08 2:09 AM ET
Hunter, Saunders carry Angels
Slugger rips three doubles, drives in three; lefty gets third win
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The budding affair between Hunter and Southern California grew a little deeper on Friday night, when the Angels' new center fielder soared to the top of the wall to take a potential game-turning home run away from the Mariners' Richie Sexson for the final out in a dramatic 5-4 win.
Earlier, Hunter had entertained a crowd of 43,939 with his bat, slashing three doubles -- which matched a club record for a game -- and driving in three runs to help give Joe Saunders a cushion that Sexson was intent on destroying.
The Mariners first baseman launched a three-run homer in the seventh, his second blast of the night, which made it a one-run game. He thought he had a shot at three homers when he got into Francisco Rodriguez's delivery with one on and two outs in the ninth.
But when he saw Hunter taking flight on his high drive, Sexson had a feeling something bad was about to happen.
"I thought I got enough of it," Sexson said. "That's why his glove has gold on it. He made a great play. That's a tough one to swallow.
"I hit it to the deepest part of the park. The ball doesn't travel as well at night ... but regardless, it was a great play. He is the best there is. You come to expect stuff like that, plays that seem to find him. He not only has the opportunity, but he has the knack to make them nine out of 10 times."
Hunter hadn't scaled a wall yet with the Angels, but fans were well aware of his history as a home run thief from his days in Minnesota, where he claimed seven consecutive Gold Gloves for the Twins.
"He hit it pretty high, and there was a little angle out there," Hunter said. "I didn't know if I was going to hit the fence, but I had time to get my timing. If it was close, I was getting it. I timed it pretty well. I thought it was over the fence.
"That's sweet. You can't beat taking a home run away. It could have been a game-winner. I'm pretty excited about that."
If Hunter was excited, he should have seen K-Rod. The closer thrust both arms toward center in a salute to the new man with the $90 million contract and $100 million personality.
"He saved me," Rodriguez said, having notched his seventh save. "That was an unbelievable catch. I've seen the highlights on TV, but I've never seen it in a game."
Saunders was watching K-Rod as the ball left Sexson's bat.
"Frankie was pointing up, and Torii kept drifting, drifting, drifting back ... Oh-Oh," Saunders said. "Never a doubt with him.
"Torii and our outfielders are awesome. Garret Anderson makes the plays, Gary Matthews is a highlight reel and Torii is a highlight reel."
Matthews had gone up against the right-field wall to take extra bases from Raul Ibanez leading off the seventh, preceding Adrian Beltre's double and a popup that fell between three Angels for a single by Jose Vidro.
That set it up for Sexson to turn it into a one-run game with one swing.
The Angels' most effective starter this month with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar shelved by injuries, Saunders moved to 3-0 with a performance that was close to brilliant -- except for the two big swings by the 6-foot-8 Sexson.
"He put a good swing on the first one," Saunders said of Sexson's solo blast in the second inning. "The second one [in the seventh] was a good pitch, a changeup away. He just got his arms extended and pulled it. Usually if I get a guy off balance, I'm in good shape. But he's seeing the ball pretty good right now."
So is Hunter. With his three doubles -- he was deprived of a fourth on a leaping stab by third baseman Beltre in the seventh -- Hunter is now batting .412 at Angel Stadium in the home colors, with three homers and 10 RBIs in seven games.
"I love playing here -- the atmosphere, the fans, the park, the grass, everything," Hunter said. "I'm always pumped up playing here."
Hunter had one of the great moments of his career on the first homestand -- his walk-off grand slam to stun the Indians -- and he's making more magic the second time around in front of the home folks.
"Torii was all over the place," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "At the plate he got us going with that first hit, and then he did what he does better than anybody [robbing Sexson]. Him and Gary ... Torii led the way."
Hunter's three-run first-inning double into the left-field corner against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in his season-starting debut came after singles by Chone Figgins and Matthews and a walk to Vladimir Guerrero.
Hunter was ruled out at home after the relay got away, but he appeared to beat the tag on the replay. After Sexson made it 3-1 with his homer, Saunders set down 12 hitters in a row and watched the Angels extend it to 5-1 on RBI singles by Maicer Izturis and Mike Napoli after Hunter's third double.
In the seventh, reliever Sean Green hit Figgins and Guerrero with pitches. But Hunter, facing Arthur Rhodes, was robbed of a fourth double by Beltre with a back-handed stab of a bullet headed down the left-field line.
Struck in the helmet by Green's pitch, Guerrero said after the game that he was not hurt.
With Dr. Feelgood -- in the form of Torii Hunter -- in the house, none of the Angels could have been feeling any pain.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.