Hunter and Rodriguez help save the day again

Times Staff Writer

It’s too late for the Texas Rangers to make a run at a pennant this year.

In fact, they need to win five games in a row to get to .500.

But with 10 of their last 28 games coming against the Angels this season, the timing may be just right to leave the soon-to-be-crowned division champions with something to think about for next season.

“These guys, they’ve got a tough offensive lineup and they score a lot of runs,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday after his team came from behind to win another nail-biter with the Rangers, 4-3. “There’s a rivalry at times with every team that’s in the same division. Sometimes it’s magnified.


“Every game’s tough.”

So while the second-place Rangers are fading fast in the American League West -- with the win, Scioscia’s team increased its division lead to a franchise-best 18 games and reduced its magic number to clinch the title to nine -- they’re not going quietly, having led in each of their last six games with the Angels.

And they might have won, not lost, four of those six, including Saturday’s, if not for Torii Hunter, who has turned center field at Angel Stadium into the place home runs go to die. A night after robbing Marlon Byrd of a game-tying seventh-inning homer with a phenomenal catch that ended with him kissing the wall, Hunter took an apparent go-ahead two-run homer away from Hank Blalock in the seventh inning with a catch he made look routine.

“If that ball’s not 10 feet over that fence, he’s got a good chance of catching it,” Scioscia said of Hunter, who said he’d rather take a home run away than hit one himself.


“You hit ‘em, you hit ‘em. But robbing home runs, some people in the outfield their whole career might have one. Might have none,” Hunter said. “It’s fun when you can take a home run away. Especially one with the go-ahead run.”

Hunter, who also had two hits, got the Angels’ started offensively too, though his run was a gift from umpire Dale Scott, who ruled Hunter had touched home on Mike Napoli’s fifth-inning single. Replays showed his right-hand swipe missed the plate by at least a foot.

“Hey, he said I was safe,” Hunter said.

Their second run was a gift from catcher Gerald Laird, who became so engrossed in his argument with Scott that he allowed Napoli to advance all the way to third, from where he scored on Brandon Wood’s squeeze bunt.


That staked starter Jered Weaver to a 2-1 lead entering the sixth, but he and reliever Jose Arredondo couldn’t hold it, thanks in part to a blown call by first base umpire Bill Hohn that turned Chris Davis’ inning-ending double play grounder into an RBI fielder’s choice and a 3-2 Rangers lead.

The Angels got both runs back in the span of four hitters in the bottom of the inning, which started with Mark Teixeira singling and taking third on a Vladimir Guerrero double. Hunter and Juan Rivera then drove both runners home with a pair of outs, putting the Angels in front to stay.

The Rangers still refused to go away, though, putting the tying run on in the seventh and ninth innings and getting the winning run on in the eighth before Francisco Rodriguez struck out Blalock to end it, earning his third save in as many nights and his 53rd of the season, four shy of Bobby Thigpen’s record.

Despite the standings, neither the Rangers nor their manager were conceding anything. Because there’s always next year.


“We’ve been close,” Ron Washington said, “but we just didn’t get that cigar.”