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Sunday, July 25, 2010
Game thoughts: Hunter, Hamilton lead

By Jeff Caplan

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton and Tommy Hunter are making this look way too easy.

There has not been two more consistent Texas players all season, and both were at their best again Sunday night as the Rangers took three out of four in the series and whisked the Los Angeles Angels out of town trailing Texas by seven games in the AL West standings. Hunter tossed a three-hitter over 6 1/3 innings and Hamilton drove in the first three runs of the 6-4 victory in front of 38,320 at Rangers Ballpark.

Hamilton entered the game with a major-league best .353 average only to take it higher. He got hits in his first three at-bats, recording a rocket two-run triple to deep right-center in the first inning and then a run-scoring line drive to left-center in the third. Even when he didn't make great contact, as was the case in the fifth, he squirted it through the hole for a single to left. He came around to score on Nelson Cruz's squibber into right.

His offensive numbers are becoming mind-boggling. Hamilton has hit safely in 34 of his last 35 home games and has 34 RBIs in those games. He's 57-of-138 (.413) in that stretch. He has eight RBIs in his last seven games. In 48 games since June 1, he's batting a major league-best .432 (83-of-192). The AL Player of the Month for June is making a case for the same honor in July. The Angels finally kept Hamilton off the bases in his final at-bat in the seventh inning as he finished the four-game series 6-of-13 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs.

As for the 24-year-old Hunter, the surprise ace of the staff this season until Cliff Lee came aboard, all he did Sunday night was completely baffle the Angels' lineup through six innings on his way to becoming the first Rangers starting pitcher to get off to an 8-0 start. Torii Hunter's second-inning solo home run to dead center hardly fazed Tommy Hunter, who went on to retire 15 of the next 16 batters he faced.

His streak of 12 consecutive batters set down ended with a walk, his first of the game, to Bobby Abreu to lead off the seventh inning. But it would also serve as the warning shot to an abrupt end to Hunter's night two batters later. After he got Hunter to pop out, designated hitter Hideki Matsui poked one 327 feet down the right-field line to just get out of the park. The one-out homer on a 3-1 count cut the Rangers' lead to 6-3.

Hunter might have been losing his steam and his control in the seventh. Manager Ron Washington came to get Hunter after the Matsui home run, ending Hunter's night after 6 1/3 innings, three hits and just 71 pitches. He struck out one and walked one, but he'll want that Matsui at-bat back. The two runs raised Hunter's ERA from 2.09 entering the game to 2.31.

The inning before, Hunter took a line drive from Maicer Izturis off the inside of his right hip. Hunter quickly located the ball, picked it up and made a composed throw to first to get the final out of the inning, his third consecutive to retire in order.

*Darren O'Day and Frankie Francisco allowed no runs and one hit over 1 2/3 innings of relief. O'Day, by the way, lowered his ERA to 1.36 after his scoreless two-thirds of an inning.

*Closer Neftali Feliz made things interesting in the ninth by allowing hits to the first two batters he faced for a first-and-third jam. But, a consecutive fielder's choices -- the first of which scored a run -- followed by a groundout to third ended the game. Feliz recorded his 28th save, moving him nine away from matching the all-time rookie record (37 saves) set by Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000. Feliz has 16 more saves than the previous franchise rookie record.

*Chris Davis' fourth-inning RBI double to left-center gave him his fourth hit in the four-game series and chased Angels starter Trevor Bell with just one out in the inning and the Rangers leading 4-1. It was just Davis' second RBI since being recalled and first since July 9. Davis, batting in the nine-hole Sunday, reached base in three of his four plate appearances, walking twice.

*Three more Rangers base runners bit the dust. Davis ended the second inning when he was gunned down at the plate by right-fielder Bobby Abreu. Davis was a dead duck and had no choice but to lower his right shoulder and barrel into Angels catcher Jeff Mathis, who absorbed the hit and held onto the ball. Vladimir Guerrero was an easy out at third base after Hamilton drove in Ian Kinsler on a line drive to left field in the third. Guerrero must have thought the throw from the outfield would not be cut off. Guerrero started to go back to second after rounding the bag, but when the throw came in behind him he continued on to third and was thrown out for the second out. In the fifth, Nelson Cruz was thrown out sliding into second going for the extra base when the throw after his RBI single to right went to the plate. Hamilton scored easily on the play, but Cruz's out ended the inning.

Before the game, Washington was asked half-jokingly if he would hold an off-day practice Monday to work on baserunning fundamentals. Washington laughed and said, "The baserunning will take care of itself. They'll figure it out."

*Cruz had a stellar series at the plate, going 7-of-15 (.467) with a couple of RBIs. Cruz extended his career-best hit streak to 14 games while increasing his average from .301 to .330.

*From the deparment of who looks this stuff up: Torii Hunter's home run off Tommy Hunter was the first instance this season of a batter hitting a home run against a pitcher with the same last name. The last time it occurred was exactly a year ago on July 25, 2009, when Mets third baseman David Wright hit a home run off Astros reliever Wesley Wright. So who looks this stuff up? ESPN Stats & Information, that's who.

*The four-game series drew 170,848 fans. Sunday's attendance of 38,320 didn't include 426 dogs at the park for bring-your-dog-night. It did include one former U.S. President. George W. Bush and his wife Laura had front-row seats. Team president Nolan Ryan sat next to Bush for much of the game.