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Hunter is lifting Angels with his bat

June 28, 2009|Solange Reyner | Reyner writes for the Associated Press.

Torii Hunter seems to have rediscovered his comfort zone.

The perennial Gold Glove center fielder is having one of his best offensive seasons to help the Angels stay afloat while they struggle to stitch together a starting rotation that has been hampered by a rash of injuries and heartbreak.

"I think production is obviously going to come and go, but at a time when we needed it the most he's been leading the charge," Angels' Manager Mike Scioscia said. "What Torii's brought to us, particularly on the offensive end, has been keeping our heads above water for the first couple of months."

Going into last Friday's game at Arizona, Hunter was hitting .310 with 54 RBIs, 24 fewer than he had all of last season, his first in Orange County after the longtime Twin became a free agent and felt slighted by Minnesota's three-year offer.

"Out of 10 teams, the Twins offered the least. That's my hometown, that's my home city -- I grew up with those guys," said Hunter, who started his career in the Twins' organization in 1993 and made his mark in the major leagues by roaming the Metrodome's outfield from 1999 to 2007.

Hunter left Minnesota among the franchise's top 10 in seven offensive categories. In his last season there, he batted .287 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs.

"For them to offer me a three-year deal was kind of like a slap in the face to be honest with you, but I always said I wanted to play with the Angels," he said.

Hunter, whose ebullient smile rarely dims, has been a key.

"There's a lot to smile about," locker neighbor Gary Matthews Jr. said. "He hasn't changed just because he's having a good year. He's been consistent. At this point, he's got an opportunity to create a legacy. Whether he admits it or not, I think it kind of drives him."

Hunter, fourth among AL outfielders in All-Star balloting, disagrees.

"They can mention that all they want, it's premature," said Hunter, who has won eight Gold Glove awards. "All I want is a World Series ring. That's all I want. It'd be nice for a collection for the future, but that ring is more important than any of that."

And he thinks he can get it with the Angels. So far, he's giving many a reason to believe it could happen:

Hunter went 11 for 38 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in mid-June.

Of course, Hunter has shown his teammates a thing or two about defense.

"This guy's been a gold glove center fielder since the first day he stepped out there playing his first game and he's continued to do that," Scioscia said. "I'd hate to see where we would be without Torii."

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