Torii Hunter couldn't believe his eyes as he stood in the on-deck circle with one out and the potential winning run at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night.
Seattle catcher Miguel Olivo signaled for an intentional walk of Mike Trout so Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor could pitch to Hunter, who just two innings earlier had delivered a clutch two-out, run-scoring single to tie the score.
A few minutes later, as he basked in the afterglow of his 10th career walk-off hit, an RBI single that gave the Angels a 4-3 victory and kept them two games behind Oakland for the second American League wild-card spot with seven games left, Hunter was asked what he thought of Seattle's ninth-inning strategy.
"Mistake!" said Hunter, who hit a 2-and-0 cut fastball to center for the game-winner. "That's what you've got to feel, man. When they walked Trout, I figured they would walk me too because there's a base open, and you could get a force play at home or a double play.
"I thought, if anything I was in the zone, I was going to poke my hands at it and hit it in the outfield. When I was younger, I would have tried to hit a three-run jack to win the game. That testosterone, that fire, is something."
Hunter is 37 now, but he has plenty of fire, his burning desire to reach his first World Series fueling a playoff push in which the Angels have won five straight, nine of their last 12 games and are 16-7 in September.
Though longshots to win the division, the Angels did move to within five games of AL West-leading Texas, and they play three more games against the Rangers this weekend.
Hunter has emerged as Mr. Clutch with a .322 (29 for 90) average, four home runs and 23 runs batted in this month, and when Oakland and wild card-leading Baltimore posted wins earlier Wednesday night and the Angels trailed, 3-2, in the seventh, Hunter knew he had work to do.
"It's tough because those games were over, and Oakland and Baltimore won," Hunter said. "That's when I said, I've got to bear down and make something happen. I'm sure all the guys are saying the same thing."
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez gave up two runs and five hits in six innings, striking out nine and walking two, and handed the ball and a 3-2 lead to reliever Josh Kinney to start the seventh.
Chris Iannetta flared a one-out single to right, pinch-runner Peter Bourjos took second on Trout's groundout and scored to make it 3-3 when Hunter poked a single to right-center.
After Kevin Jepsen threw a scoreless eighth inning and Ernesto Frieri a scoreless ninth, Maicer Izturis opened the bottom of the ninth with a single to right field, ending a string of 20 pinch-hit at-bats without a hit this season for the infielder.
With Bourjos squaring to bunt, Pryor threw a wild pitch that let Izturis take second. Bourjos got his bunt down, advancing Izturis to third, and after the walk to Trout, Hunter came through with another big hit.
"Torii plays with passion and intensity, whether he's playing a spring-training game or in a pennant race," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "But there's an awareness in that clubhouse of what we're up against. In many ways we're playing the best baseball we've played all year, and Torii is right in the middle of it."
Hunter's seventh-inning hit took starter C.J. Wilson, who gave up three runs and five hits in 51/3 innings, off the hook.
After singles by Kendrys Morales and Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar's two-run double gave the Angels a 2-0 lead in the second, Wilson walked the first two batters in the third, and both came around to score. Seattle took a 3-2 lead on Justin Smoak's homer in the fourth.
But the Angels came back, Hunter leading the charge, and despite their two-game deficit in the wild-card race, they feel they're still in the playoff hunt.
"We're only two games back -- if Oakland slips twice and we win twice, we're in there," Hunter said. "We're lying in the weeds right now. They're the gazelle."