05/10/09 8:48 PM ET
Marvelous finish highlighted by catch
Hunter saves game with grab after Figgins' go-ahead bunt
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The chant rose up as Torii Hunter joined his teammates in the Angel Stadium infield on Sunday afternoon, having saved a game with his glove of solid gold, with the timing and spring of an elite athlete and with the guile of a thief.
"That," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said,a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Royals saved by Hunter's soaring play, "was as good as it gets."
Off with the crack of Miguel Olivo's bat leading off the ninth inning against Brian Fuentes, Hunter raced to the wall, planted, took flight and hung Air Jordan style, elevating about two feet over the wall to snatch the ball -- and game.
Moments later, after Fuentes served a game-ending double play grounder to David DeJesus, the Angels completed a three-game weekend sweep of the Royals in front of a Mother's Day crowd numbering 43,646.
Chone Figgins' RBI sacrifice bunt following Jeff Mathis' two-run single brought the Angels from behind with a three-run seventh.
Figgins, who made two sensational plays of his own to frustrate the Royals, marveled at Hunter's work.
"That's just Torii being Torii," Figgins said, beaming.
"It takes timing, instincts," said Hunter, who was shading Olivo to right-center and had to sprint full-tilt about 150 feet to reach the wall. "Man, that felt awesome. If I don't catch that ball, it's 4-4."
Olivo, who'd singled in a run earlier and was robbed by Figgins at third in his previous at-bat, was philosophical about getting robbed in broad daylight.
"You're telling me," Olivo said, amazed by what he'd seen. "That is out. He just took it away.
"There's nothing I can do. That's why he's good over there. That's why he's making so much money."
Asked to describe everything involved in making a play like that, Hunter -- who earns $18 million a year and works as hard as anybody in the game -- conceded that it's an uncommon skill known to only a special few.
"Don't get too close to the wall or too far from the wall," Hunter said, "and you've got to time it perfect. It's just something I do. It's instinctual."
Hunter showed his emotion with a fist pump after making the catch and exchanging a running high-five with left fielder Gary Matthews Jr., a man who knows the feeling of stealing home runs.
"He was up there," said Matthews, who made a catch in this fashion while playing for the Rangers that some insiders have called the greatest ever. "The most important thing is the timing part of it. You have to anticipate where the ball's going to end up, and when it's coming down, you have to be there.
"That was exciting, for us as much as the crowd. It's a lot more fun making the catch, but it's fun watching it, too."
Hunter, with eight consecutive Rawlings Gold Gloves, is widely considered among the best in history to play the position. While some number crunchers have reached the conclusion that Hunter has lost a step or two, Scioscia doesn't buy it.
"I don't know how they figure that," Scioscia said. "This guy's covering as much ground in center field as anybody out there. This guy can play center field. I don't care what those numbers say."
Scioscia, who said he trusted his eyes more than computer data, was exhilarated by another big development in the Angels' sixth win in their past seven games.
Scot Shields, whose brought some embarrassing numbers (0-2, 9.31 ERA across 9 2/3 innings) into the game, was the Shields of old, striking out four men in two near-perfect innings of relief after Darren Oliver (2 1/3 scoreless innings) had rescued Shane Loux.
"Of all the things that happened today," Scioscia said, "Scotty Shields was what we're most excited about. That was terrific."
Struggling to find his rhythm, Loux departed at 3 2/3 innings, yielding three earned runs on seven hits, but the bullpen, defense and some timely hitting by Mathis turned the tide.
Down by two runs, the Angels came alive in the seventh.
Kendry Morales' leadoff single chased Kyle Davies, who deserved better than a no-decision with six-plus innings of superb work, holding the Angels to three hits and one earned run.
After walking Mike Napoli, reliever Jamey Wright had a chance for an inning-ending double play. But he sailed his throw to second into center field for an error on Howard Kendrick's ground ball.
With runners on the corners, Kendrick stole second. On a 1-0 pitch, catcher Mathis went the other way for a two-run single to right, tying the game at 3.
"I moved up a little on the plate and went the other way with it," Mathis said.
Figgins' sacrifice drag bunt delivered Mathis from third with the go-ahead run after Erick Aybar had singled to left, his second hit of the day.
Wright (0-1) absorbed the loss, with Shields moving to 1-2 and Fuentes registering his ninth save.
The Royals had taken the lead in the third on Coco Crisp's one-out single and Mark Teahen's second double, a drive to left.
They added two runs in the fourth, ending Loux's day. Billy Butler doubled and scored on Alberto Callaspo's triple to the right-center gap. After Olivo singled and Figgins robbed Luis Hernandez with a leaping catch, Loux gave way to Oliver, who got the final out -- and six more.
The Angels put together a run in the fourth, Matthews once again serving as the catalyst, as he had in Saturday night's 1-0 victory.
Matthews singled, and after Bobby Abreu walked -- his second of four free passes -- Matthews moved up on Hunter's deep fly and scored on Morales' sacrifice fly.
The Angels had a chance to pad the lead in the eighth, but Juan Cruz slammed the door after walks by Abreu and Hunter.
That left it to Olivo to go deep, and for Hunter to take flight.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.