Like the fans who chanted his name when he came to bat in the ninth inning Thursday, Torii Hunter wondered if that would be his final appearance at Angel Stadium in the home team's uniform — not only this season, but for good.
"I was thinking about that in the back of my mind the whole game," said Hunter, who will be a free agent after this season. "Just looking at the fans, and looking in the stands and looking around and just kind of reminiscing, you know, these last five years. I had a lot of fun, man. The fans have been awesome here."
Ever the optimist, Hunter was quick to add he's hopeful his ninth-inning strikeout wasn't his farewell and that he wants to patrol right field again next season. But his use of the past tense was an interesting choice, one that contributed to the air of finality surrounding the Angels' 9-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Their final regular-season home game might also have been their last game of any sort in Anaheim this season, given that they're two games out of the second wild-card spot with six games left. They knew early Thursday that Oakland had lost to Texas, but the Angels fumbled away the opportunity to gain ground. They committed errors in the fifth and ninth innings and relievers Garrett Richards and LaTroy Hawkins got smacked around, Richards for three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning and Hawkins for two runs, one of them earned, in one-third of an inning.
It's not over till it's over, but it's looking more and more like it's over for the Angels, whose $300-million-plus free-agent spending spree last winter has bought them a boatload of regrets but no guarantee they'll sneak into even an expanded playoff setup.
"We've showed a lot of fight. If it weren't for really two stretches of the season we'd probably end up with 95 wins or something," starting pitcher Dan Haren said. "But unfortunately we dug ourselves a couple holes, and I'm not sure if we'll be able to get out."
They probably won't extricate themselves despite having won 16 of 24 games in September, including five in a row before Thursday's stumble. They will open a three-game series Friday at Texas, where they're 3-4 this season and 13-22 over the last four seasons. They'll play their last three at Seattle, where they're 6-1. They'll have to hope that those last games matter.
"Momentum is crazy this time of year," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We need to get right on the horse tomorrow and hopefully we'll get a little bit of help."
Make that a lot of help.
"To not control our destiny is not what we sought at the beginning of the season," Haren said, "but it's just a product of how we played in April, and then a rough stretch after the All-Star break left us at this point."
For Hunter, it might be the point of no return. It's certainly not the scenario he envisioned last winter when owner Arte Moreno opened his checkbook to sign pitcher C.J. Wilson and slugger Albert Pujols.
"It's weird," Hunter said. "What we did in spring training was awesome. We played great baseball. And in the first six weeks of the season, we just … it was bad. We didn't play good baseball at all.
"We called up [Mike] Trout and he changed some things and we started winning. If we had those six weeks back and just played average baseball I think we would be fine right now. We wouldn't be in this position."
It's too late for "ifs" and wondering what might have been, and the finality of the Angels' situation seemed to hit Hunter not only at the plate but in the clubhouse after the game. He offered goodbyes to the many reporters who clustered around his locker, shaking hands and wishing everyone the best.
"Just in case," he said. "We're not going to give up."
And so he changed "goodbye" to something cheerier. "See ya later, alligator. After a while, crocodile," he said, smiling.
For him and the Angels, that's likely to mean next spring.