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Thursday, September 27, 2012
Torii Hunter putting on a show in September

By Ramona Shelburne

With Detroit's Miguel Cabrera closing in on the Triple Crown and the Rangers' Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton making a late push; the Angels might have to make the playoffs for outfielder Mike Trout to win the American League MVP award.

If the Angels make it however, it will have been Torii Hunter who carried them the final leg.

Hunter's Wednesday night heroics -- his game-winning RBI single in the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners which came just two innings after his game-tying RBI single -- were just the latest examples of what has made Hunter, not Trout, the Angels' September MVP.

Hunter, 37, who is in the last season of a five-year, $90 million contract, is willing the Angels through this final month. His two-RBI Wednesday were his 22nd and 23rd in 23 games this month . . . from the No. 2 spot in the order.

While Trout and Albert Pujols have cooled off some this month -- Trout is hitting .268 in September, Pujols is hitting .282 -- Hunter has been hitting a sizzling .322.

Last week, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he thinks the move to the No. 2 hole has reinvigorated Hunter because it allows him to do more of what he does best -- hit gap-to-gap; move runners; come up in the clutch; add occasional power.

"Right now Torii is playing the best baseball he's played since he signed with us," Scioscia said last week.

And that play is fueled by a sense of urgency, because no matter how valuable Hunter has been down the stretch, the Angels may not be able to afford to bring him back next season.

Hunter has stated publicly he wants to stay and would take less money to finish his career here.

"I really love these fans," he said after Wednesday's win. "I want to stay here the rest of my career."

That's probably another two or three years, and while the Angels have moved on from late-career outfielders in the recent past, the 37-year-old Hunter appears to be a different case than former Angel Bobby Abreu, for example.

He's in far better physical shape than Abreu was at this age and is still playing quality defense in right, in addition to what he's producing at the plate.

It's true that at some point the Angels either have to clear room for youngster Peter Bourjos to play regularly or trade him (or Mark Trumbo or Vernon Wells). But from this corner of the room, I don't see how you let go of a guy who brings as much leadership, experience and ability to the park as Hunter does. Not when he can still play at the level he's demonstrating right now.

Nevertheless, finances being what they are, if it doesn't work out between Hunter and the Angels in the off-season, Thursday's home finale against the Mariners could be his final appearance in Anaheim.

Unless of course he keeps up what has so far been a magical September and earns the Angels the chance to play a few more games here in October.