Published May 19, 2011
SEATTLE – Just two innings earlier, Torii Hunter raced back to the warning track and made a leaping grab as he crashed into the center field fence, looking like the spry defensive whiz that once racked up nine straight Gold Gloves.
Even so, that's not going to be the image that remains from Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Hunter lost Carlos Peguero's fly ball in the sun with two outs in the ninth inning.
Hunter understood that just moments after the Angels lost their fifth straight. And he wasn't about to use the sun as an excuse, even if he rightfully could on an extremely bright afternoon where outfielders for both teams struggled with the sun.
"I'm not going to talk about the sun. There is no excuse," Hunter said. "You've just got to do it."
Making his first start in center field this season, Hunter had an eventful day. He nearly threw out Seattle's Luis Rodriguez on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning, his throw on target but just a moment late.
He robbed Peguero of at least a double in the seventh inning with a leaping catch that reminded everyone how great a defensive center fielder Hunter was for most of the last decade.
Then came the capper in the ninth, a ball that Hunter saw off Peguero's bat, but then lost once it reached its apex.
"I saw it off the bat and ran after it till its highest point and didn't see it anymore. I just battled, tried to find it, stand there as long as I could, put my glove where I thought it would fall in," Hunter described. "I just couldn't see it. You can't catch what you can't see."
Losing a ball in the sun isn't new for Hunter, or any outfielder.
"But (I've) never lost the ball to lose the game," Hunter said. "That stings even more."
Seattle used a check-swing infield single by Cust off Angels reliever Scott Downs (1-1), a sacrifice bunt by Adam Kennedy and Peguero's lucky single to take both games of the brief two-game set with the Angels. Beyond a five-game skid, the Angels have dropped seven of eight.
"I'm worried about our clubhouse. We need to get some momentum going," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're not going to waste any energy thinking about other clubs. We've got a lot on our plate. We need to get crisper in the things we need to and that is where our focus will be."
Foremost would be the Angels offense that broke a 24-inning scoreless streak with Howie Kendrick's solo homer in the fourth inning and did no more. Seattle starter Doug Fister had something to do with that, throwing eight strong innings, giving up six hits and just the one run. David Pauley (2-0) got the win pitching a scoreless ninth in relief.
But Angels' starter Dan Haren was even better. Haren didn't allow a hit until Rodriguez's double leading off the fifth and just three hits total. Yet, Haren's now gone six straight starts without a victory.
"We've played good baseball for the most part. It feels like we've lost 20 in a row, but really we're a game or two out of first place," Haren said. "We're lucky in that respect. Nobody has pulled away so far."
In its brief four-game homestand, Seattle's starters were brilliant. Michael Pineda, Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Fister all worked at least seven innings — 30 total between the foursome — and allowed a combined three earned runs.
In 15 games this month, Mariners starters have gone at least seven innings 11 times.
"It's been outstanding. That's the only word I can think of," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "Consistently getting us deep into ball games. Each starter focusing on what they need to do and doing their job and doing the work in between starts so when they go out there they are giving themselves an opportunity to be at their best."
If anyone knows what Hunter experienced in the ninth, it was Seattle center fielder Michael Saunders. In the top of the ninth, Saunders danced all over center field trying to fight off the sun to catch a fly ball by Alberto Callaspo. That was the most obvious example of Saunders struggling with the sun, but it was a problem all afternoon.
"For the middle to late (innings) it was brutal. I was doing the two-step out there on one of them. I lost it for a good two to three seconds probably," Saunders said. "Luckily it came out of the sun for me. Obviously you saw one of the greatest out there and he lost it in the sun. It was awful."
NOTES: Hunter has spent most of the season in right field, but was moved to center to give Peter Bourjos a day off. "I think he knows the neighborhood," Scioscia said before the game. "I heard he's played it before so we'll give him a shot." ... Seattle begins interleague play on Friday with a three-game weekend series in San Diego. The Angels go home to host Atlanta. ... Kendrick had his 19th multihit game. He left in the bottom of the ninth inning with tightness in his right hamstring. He was thrown out trying to steal second in the top of the inning.