Angels catcher Jeff Mathis is tagged out by Royals catcher Matt Treanor… (Charlie Riedel / Associated…)
Reporting from Kansas City, Mo. — Torii Hunter stood before his locker in a corner of the Angels clubhouse Thursday afternoon and joked about getting some T-shirts made.
"They're going to say OG on them," he said, drawing a line across his chest with an index finger. "That's supposed to stand for Original Gangster. But mine are going to stand for Old Goat."
A couple of hours later Hunter showed that, old or not, this goat is not ready to be put out to pasture just yet, collecting two hits, including a long fourth-inning home run to start the Angels on their way to a 4-2 season-opening win over the Kansas City Royals.
While Jered Weaver set the mood on the mound, holding the Royals to two singles by Melky Cabrera through 61/3 innings, it was Hunter who led the way everywhere else. Not only did his fourth-inning home run give them a lead that they never relinquished, but he also stifled a potential Royals rally in the sixth with a spectacular diving catch of a Mike Aviles' fly ball just inside the right-field line.
"My whole career, that's what I always wanted to be," he said. "That guy, that table-setter. That guy that sets the tone and makes everything go."
Last summer's move to right field led some to whisper that Hunter had lost a step, that his game was in decline. It's a quiet criticism that Hunter now uses as motivation — even after driving a full-count pitch to the base of the scoreboard in center field more than 440 feet away.
"I still go out and play and I play hard. I've still got it," spat Hunter, who at 35 is the Angels' second-oldest regular. "No matter if I have a bad day or not, I'm going to push that other guy to have some fun and play the game. Maybe he'll help us win."
Two innings after Hunter got the Angels started, Jeff Mathis followed with a solo homer of his own, his first since July. And with Mathis turning 28 on Thursday, it made him just the third player in history to hit an opening-day home run on his birthday.
That also helped give Weaver a 4-0 lead to work with. But when the right-hander surpassed 100 pitches an inning later, he was lifted with one out in the seventh — and that's when the fun began.
Last season no American League bullpen walked more batters than the shaky Angels', and the team's relievers proved to be in midseason form Thursday, starting with Hisanori Takahashi, who gave up a home run and two singles in the span of four batters in the seventh.
Kevin Jepsen gave up another home run, two walks and a wild pitch to start the eighth before yielding to Michael Kohn, who walked his first batter to load the bases before wiggling out of the jam.
Fernando Rodney then survived an equally shaky ninth, putting the tying run on base in the ninth before striking out Alex Gordon on a foul tip to end the game.
Weaver, watching from the safety of the clubhouse, said he couldn't help but grow nervous.
"We made it interesting a little bit," he said. "But those guys made pitches when they needed to. So that was a good way to start the season."