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Angels ace chemistry test

After team's 7-3 victory over the Rangers, Hunter says players have really bonded together.

September 22, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Torii Hunter knows a little something about winning.

Five of the last seven teams he has played for have won at least a division title, for example. And just once in the last eight seasons has he been on a team with a losing record.

You want to know why?

"Chemistry," said Hunter, who says he feels the same positive vibes in the Angels clubhouse that he felt with the Twins. "Once you get your chemistry together you know how to play together. Once you get that chemistry, everything just flows."

Things are certainly flowing for the Angels, who rode six scoreless innings from John Lackey to a 7-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday, running their winning streak to four games and giving them nine wins in 11 tries since they clinched the American League West title.

"I know we have a great team. But we don't have the Yankees' hitting. We don't have different things like that," Hunter said. "But we do have a lot of good character guys. When you have good character guys, guys that love to play together, then you get guys that go out there to bust their butt.

"That's one thing about this ballclub that I love. We're laughing and joking, watching TV together, listening to music together. We don't have too many different cliques. Everybody's kind of together, cracking jokes with each other. And that's kind of cool."

Reliever Scot Shields agrees. However, he adds, it's also nice to have talent.

"No disrespect to other teams that we've had, [but] we have pretty good players here," he said.

Good players, he hastened to add, who have bonded.

"A team atmosphere," he said. "No egos. That's been like that ever since I've been here. There's a lot of personnel who have gone in and out of here and it's always been that concept."

That starts with Mike Scioscia, who has fostered a tightknit atmosphere in the clubhouse since taking over as manager before the 2000 season. For Scioscia, though, the chemistry between the lines is more important than anything that happens in the locker room.

"Clubhouse chemistry is something to consider. If you're winning, it obviously helps clubhouse chemistry," he said. "But clubhouse chemistry is second to on-field chemistry."

To prove his point, Scioscia need look no further than Sunday's game, where Lackey and catcher Mike Napoli blended about as well as peanut butter and jelly.

"The ability of a catcher and pitcher to be in sync is going to affect a game more than anything that happens on that field," Scioscia said. "It's something you have to keep working on. You want to get to that point where you're comfortable. Those guys have worked very well together."

So well that Lackey struck out a career-high 12 despite leaving after six innings, having given up only two hits. And seven of Lackey's strikeouts came in order, one shy of the AL record set by Nolan Ryan, now the Rangers president, who was sitting in the second row beside the Texas dugout.

"We had a great rhythm going," Lackey said. "I don't think I had to shake him [off] hardly at all. So that really allowed me to stay in rhythm and work fast, and it ended up pretty good."

Sean Rodriguez supplied most of the offense with a three-run homer while Garret Anderson had a pair of singles to lift his season average to .298.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that Sunday's win gave the Angels a 3 1/2 -game lead over Tampa Bay in the battle for the league's best record, which is worth home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And it also moved them to within four victories of the first 100-win season in team history while increasing their lead over Texas in the AL West to a franchise-best 21 1/2 games.

Yet none of that will mean anything, Shields warned, unless the team's final win comes in the deciding game of the World Series.

"I think we can do some pretty good things with this ballclub," he said. "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself on some things, but we're here for one thing. And it we don't get that, we'll be disappointed."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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