It’s easy to under-appreciate and even overlook Torii Hunter, the Angels’ superb center fielder.
Always the professional, Hunter, in his second season with the club, does everything well, from hitting for average, hitting for power, running the bases, and flashing his trusty glove.
Hunter has collected eight straight Gold Gloves, beginning in 2001, his third full season in the major leagues.
Then again, Hunter always gives everything both on and off the field. It’s not uncommon for the Arkansas native to write whopping checks to needy charities. Hunter knows he’s a lucky man, and wants to help out whenever he can.
Over this past weekend against the host Dodgers, Hunter’s full skill-set was on display, and had the crowd on its feet in the fourth inning Sunday afternoon when he chased a line-drive off Matt Kemp’s bat, and made a highlight catch before crashing into the wall full-force.
Hunter held onto the ball, and while on his back, raised his glove indicating that he had the sphere.
That’s how Hunter plays every day, whether it’s an inter-league game or a playoff encounter.
Two innings later, Hunter, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1993, singled to center for a run batted in, and then smacked a two-run single in the seventh inning. Hunter now has a team-best 37 RBIs.
The Angels would win the wild game, 10-7, taking two of three from the Dodgers (30-15), who still have the best record in the majors.
The night before, Hunter blasted his team-leading 10th home run, but the Angels would fall, 5-4, in 10 innings when Juan Pierre walked with the bases loaded. Hunter, who is batting .314, drove in three runs and scored a run.
On Friday evening, Hunter, a two-time All-Star, would make two fine catches, and help preserve a 3-1 Angels’ win. Hunter scored a run and doubled in that game.
The Angels (23-20) are in a dogfight with the Texas Rangers (26-17) in the American League West, but are slowly having their top players return after injury, like pitcher John Lackey, who worked Saturday, but didn’t have a decision, and Ervin Santana, who is scheduled to pitch against the Chicago White Sox this week. Kelvim Escobar is also on track to pitch soon.
Just as important is getting Vladimir Guerrero’s big stick into the lineup. The right fielder has been sidelined for most of the season, and is expected back this week. With him penciled in, the Angels have a good chance of surpassing the Rangers.
Hunter has pushed his team into the playoffs five times, including last season with the Angels. Hunter batted .389 and drove in five runs against the Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series, but lost in four games, and he expects even more this time.
If Hunter, who has a .316 batting average in the postseason, plays in at least 135 games, and gets nearly 600 plate appearances, he’s going to hit between 25 and 30 home runs, and drive in roughly 95 runs. Three times Hunter has swiped more than 20 bases, with a high of 23 twice.
Hunter is doing yeoman work, but still needs left fielder Bobby Abreu, Guerrero, first baseman Kendry Morales, and catcher Mike Napoli to help carry the load.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.