Hunter’s clutch hits drive Angels past Mariners
The way Hunter and the Angels are playing down the September stretch, they clearly don’t want to be done just yet.
Hunter’s RBI singles tied it in the seventh inning and ended it in the ninth, and Los Angeles kept pace in the AL wild-card race with its fifth consecutive victory, 4-3 over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
Erick Aybar had an early two-run double before Hunter’s impressive finish for the Angels (86-69), who remained two games behind Oakland (88-67) after the other three teams in the AL wild-card race all won Wednesday. Baltimore (89-67) is a half-game ahead of the Athletics atop the wild-card race, while Tampa Bay (85-70) has won seven straight to stay one game behind the Angels.
“It’s tough, because those games were over (before the Angels played),” Hunter said. “That’s when I said, `I’ve got to bear down and make something happen.”’
Something has been happening constantly for Hunter, the 37-year-old outfielder and unofficial team captain who hopes to be re-signed this winter. He has been spectacular down the stretch of his fifth season with the Angels, contributing 23 RBIs in 23 games—none bigger than the two that he conjured against Seattle.
Pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis opened the ninth with a single off Stephen Pryor (3-1) and advanced to third on a wild pitch and Peter Bourjos’ bunt. Seattle walked rookie Mike Trout to face Hunter, who coolly stroked a single to center, pumping his fist as he jogged to first with the Los Angeles dugout in pursuit.
“He’s been playing so well pretty much all year, especially the last two months,” said Bourjos, who scored the tying run as a pinch-runner when Hunter singled in the seventh. “He’s getting a lot of hits and really helping the team.”
With 16 wins in 23 games in September, Los Angeles is 17 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2009 season, the Angels’ last playoff year. It still might not be enough to catch Oakland or Baltimore, but Hunter has faith.
“We’re just laying in the weeds right now,” Hunter said with a grin. “They’re the gazelle.”
Justin Smoak hit his third homer in two games for the Mariners, who have lost seven of nine. Brendan Ryan and Franklin Gutierrez drove in early runs, but Seattle couldn’t capitalize on a solid start by Felix Hernandez, who struck out nine.
Pryor blamed himself for exacerbating the ninth-inning problems with a wild pitch.
“Trout and Hunter are both good hitters, so you kind of pick your poison there,” he said. “We were trying to set up a double play there to get out of the inning. I tried to get Hunter to hit a ground ball, but I ended up giving up a soft liner over the infield.”
Hernandez pitched six innings of five-hit ball, leaving with a lead before the Angels’ seventh-inning rally against reliever Josh Kinney. Hernandez, who is slated to face the Angels again in Seattle next week, is 0-2 in four starts against Los Angeles this season.
Wilson, the Angels’ $77.5 million left-hander, had his second straight short start in a nightmarish second half of the season. After failing to get out of the third inning against Texas last week, he gave up five hits, three walks and several hard-hit outs to the Mariners in 5 1-3 innings despite picking up his 800th career strikeout along the way.
“He had some walks here and there, but he was able to get out of some innings without giving up a lot of damage, which is important,” said Seattle’s Dustin Ackley, who went 0 for 4. “He let the leadoff guy on a couple of times, but he limited the damage that we were able to do in those innings when we could have broken through.”
After Aybar staked the Angels to a two-run lead in the second inning, they loaded the bases before Hunter grounded out on the first pitch he saw. Aybar also reached third base in the fourth inning, but Trout’s harmless flyout ended it.
Hernandez retired nine straight after Aybar’s leadoff single in the fourth, but threw 103 pitches before Kinney replaced him to start the seventh. Chris Iannetta singled with one out, and pinch-runner Bourjos scored from second when Hunter fouled off several pitches before dropping a short single into the outfield.
NOTES: Izturis was 0 for 20 as a pinch-hitter this season before connecting in the ninth. … The Angels surpassed 3 million fans for the season Wednesday night, reaching the mark for the 10th consecutive year since their only World Series championship. … Dan Haren starts the Angels’ regular-season home finale on Wednesday afternoon against Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma.