Tuesday, August 24, 2010 Updated: August 25, 8:43 AM ET
Torii Hunter doesn't have the cure
By Arash Markazi ESPNLosAngeles.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Torii Hunter still isn't comfortable running out to right field. The 14-year center fielder, who made the move to right field to make room for 23-year-old prospect Peter Bourjos earlier this month, still shakes his head when he talks about the difficulty of playing his new position and being called off plays he normally would make.
"No, I'm not comfortable," Hunter said. "I'm cool though, you know? I do this for the team. I want to win. If me going to right and [Bourjos] going to center helps us get better and helps us win, then I'm going to do it. I'll play shortstop if it helps us win."
The problem is nothing Hunter or Bourjos or anyone else on the Angels' roster is doing these days is helping the Angels win. Their 10-3 loss to the Tampa Rays on Tuesday night was the team's seventh in its past nine games and dropped them to third place in the AL West (62-65), 1½ games behind the Oakland A's and 10 games behind the Texas Rangers.
Torii Hunter has tried to remain positive, but even his faith is being tested as the Angels continue to struggle.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, kept pace with the New York Yankees for the best record in the AL East and the majors (78-48) with its fourth straight win and ninth in its past 11 games.
For the second night in a row, the game was basically decided in the first two innings as the Rays again jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Normally a four-run deficit in the second inning wouldn't be insurmountable, but with the Angels' dreadful offense this season, it seemed the equivalent of a football team taking a four-touchdown lead in the second quarter.
It's not that the Angels haven't been getting hits or runners on base (they had 10 hits to Tampa Bay's 13); they just haven't been getting those runners home. On Monday, the Angels went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and on Tuesday they were actually worse, going 1-for-14. They're hitting .193 (33-for-171) with runners in scoring position in August. It's one of the biggest reasons why they find themselves in a double-digit hole in their division with a little over a month left in the regular season.
Hunter has grown accustomed this season to shrugging his shoulders and helplessly smiling at reporters coming to him for answers after games.
"If I knew the answer, man, believe me -- if I knew the answer, trust me, we would have been doing something by now," he said. "I promise you, I have no clue. We just have to play it out."
The Angels might not be far from simply playing out the season as they fall further back in a playoff race in which they seemingly are alive only in a mathematical sense.
"Once they start calling up guys and bringing up the younger guys, you can call it a night," Hunter said. "It's been a bumpy road this year. It's been like a roller coaster. We've had some injuries to key players. We have players we lost for the season, our bullpen has been up and down, our hitting has been up and down, the defensive outfield has been up and down. It's been tough. It's been real, real tough."
Aside from leaving runners stranded, the Angels have spent most of the season simply trying to keep players healthy. The Angels, who have made over 100 lineup changes this season, have placed 15 different players on the disabled list who have combined to miss 578 games. They've had 10 different players try their hand at first base and have started eight different players at the position since Kendry Morales was lost for the season May 29.
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"We know as baseball players, three out of 10, you're a hero," Hunter said. "Hitting three out of 10 is your job. If you only write three out of 10 good stories or only hit three out of 10 shots in basketball or any other sport it's a failing grade, but in baseball that's good. So you know you're going to fail. You might fail a lot, but you have to fight it and get through it, and I'm still waiting for us to get through it."
Hunter might have to wait for next year for the Angels to break through whatever slump they've been mired in for much of this season. While batting .300 might cut it at the plate, it's a clip that simply won't cut it in the standings, and far too often the Angels have gone through 10-game stretches where that's about as well as they've done. They will need to beat the Rays on Wednesday just to hit the .300 mark in their past 10 games.
"We've got so much stuff in house that we need to move forward with and play better with, and that's going to be our focus," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're not going to have any other distractions but keep our mind on this task at hand. It grows every day. We're not bringing a level of play on the field that we should, and we're going to see what this group is made of. Our backs are against the wall now and we need to pick it up."
Angel Stadium was practically empty when the home team came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday. The innovative "Rally Monkey" videos on the big screen, which used to serve as a rallying cry for optimistic fans, have long since turned into the butt of jokes as fans make their way to the parking lot.
The frustration of the fans, however, probably pales in comparison to that of Hunter, who feels as if he's Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," losing the same way day after day and answering the same questions from the same reporters and offering up the same answers.
"I've been telling you all the same thing, it's like we're playing a rerun or something. Folks at home probably think I'm crazy or something," Hunter said. "I'm tired of excuses. I'm out of excuses. I don't have any more excuses. I'm out of them. If I had a cure we would have used it already. I don't have a cure. We're just stuck with this disease."
Quote of the day
"Kudos to John. I love the fact that he's in Detroit. His personality in that city combined with his baseball ability can lead to a definitive resurgence in the downtown area." -- Rays manager Joe Maddon on Johnny Damon staying with Detroit Tigers and not going to AL East division rival Boston Red Sox
Dan Haren (1-4, 4.39 ERA) will face Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann (10-3, 3.12) on Wednesday in the last game of a three-game home series against the Rays. The Angels, who are 15-21 since the All-Star break, are three games under .500 for the first time since May 29, when Morales was lost for the season. The Angels have also lost four of five to the Rays this season.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.