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Torii Hunter has a day for the ages in Angels' 10-8 victory over Royals

Hunter's two-run homer in the ninth is the decisive blow as Angels come from five runs down to win for the second time in four games. It also gives the 35-year-old outfielder 1,000 RBIs in his career.

May 31, 2011|By Kevin Baxter

Reporting from Kansas City, Mo. — Torii Hunter says he doesn't pay attention to numbers. But there's one he's very aware of — 35, which is the Angels outfielder's age.

So when he found out his two-run ninth-inning home run Monday not only lifted his team to a 10-8 win over the Kansas City Royals, but also gave him 1,000 runs batted in for his career, one thought popped into his mind.

"I'm old," he sighed.

Maybe. But he's not playing that way, at least not lately. And that's given the Angels an extra spring in their step as well.

In erasing a 6-1 second-inning deficit, the Angels rallied from five runs down to win for the second time in four games — and for the third time this month, only the second time in franchise history that's happened.

Yet for all the attention being paid to the Angels' Kiddie Korps, it's the oldest position players on the team — Hunter and Bobby Abreu, 37 — who have been carrying the load lately.

With four hits, including two doubles, on Monday, Abreu is batting .316 with seven runs and seven RBIs over the last 10 games while Hunter is batting .375 with four homers, seven runs and 11 RBIs.

"If you look at the last 30 at-bats for both of them, you're starting to see not only some hits falling in, but [they're] starting to drive the ball," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Those two guys are really the foundation of what we need to do."

It was a shaky foundation for a while. Six weeks into the season, Abreu was batting .264 with only 16 RBIs while Hunter was hitting .247 and had gone three weeks without a home run. And with the Angels regularly starting three position players who are younger than 26 and without a full season of big league experience, that lack of veteran leadership on the field was telling.

Not anymore.

Monday's comeback was a mix of something old and something new, starting with eighth-inning homers from 25-year-old Mark Trumbo and 24-year-old Peter Bourjos that pulled the Angels to within a run.

Three days earlier, in Minnesota, the Angels had entered the eighth down 5-0 but won in the ninth when Bourjos tripled and scored. That ended a big league-record streak of 755 games in which the Twins won when taking a lead of at least five runs into the eighth. And although Monday's comeback wasn't as historic, it was telling, Hunter said.

"It shows we have that fight, that hunger to win," he said. "We just can't give up. I think we concentrate a little more when we're behind.

"We . . . work the count, get good pitches to hit, put better swings on the ball."

Abreu started the winning rally with a one-out single to left against troubled Royals closer Joakim Soria. Hunter then drove a 2-0 pitch just over the wall in left-center field for his second home run in as many at-bats.

The ball ended up with a trio of grade school kids, who brought the milestone memento to the Angels' clubhouse, where Hunter exchanged it for three autographed baseballs.

"I'm going to show my grandkids that," he said. "That's why I kept the ball. You have to have proof."

All that talk of grandkids didn't make Hunter feel any younger. But it did make him more reflective.

"When I was in the minor leagues, I was like 'just get me up. Let me get one hit in the major leagues. Let me play one day,' " Hunter said. "I'm here. I got a milestone of 1,000 RBIs.

"I know I'm getting older. But I still feel good. I still look good. And my wife loves me."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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