Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels are still trying to make up for their horrendous start to the season that put them in an early hole.
With only four games left, the Angels still have a chance to get into the playoffs.
Hunter hit a two-run double with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday, when the Angels rallied off closer Joe Nathan and got past the AL West-leading Texas Rangers 5-4 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
”I’m hungry. I’m about winning. When it gets close like this and in the postseason, I simplify things,” Hunter said. ”You worry about the task at hand. Win this game. You don’t talk about winning three games. Now we’ve got to put our focus into the next day. Well, I guess today it’s on the next game coming up.”
The Angels, who after adding slugger Albert Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson last winter went 8-15 in April, have won 11 of their last 15 games. Their 26-10 record since Aug. 21 is the best in the American League.
Los Angeles (88-70) is 2 1/2 games behind Oakland (91-68) for the AL’s second wild card after the A’s won 5-2 at home to Seattle on Sunday.
Texas (92-66) saw its division lead over the A’s cut to 1 1/2 games with four to play. The Rangers finish the regular season with three games at Oakland, starting Monday.
Hunter’s double into the left-center gap came right after Nathan (3-5) struck out Mike Trout, who earlier in the game became the first major league rookie with 30 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season.
It was only the third blown save in 39 chances for Nathan, who put his hands on his head while looking down in disgust as Hunter’s ball rolled to the wall. In the dugout after the inning, Nathan covered his face with a towel.
”No doubt that’s the biggest hit of our season,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
”Bad pitch at the wrong time,” Nathan said. ”He’s a good player, going to get you sometime. Unfortunately, it was during a big spot.”
With the loss, the Rangers won’t have an opportunity at home to clinch their third consecutive AL West title. The Rangers would assure a playoff berth with a victory against the Angels on Sunday night.
”Well, we’ve got another game,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. ”I’m glad we don’t have to wait too long.”
There was about a 2 1/2-hour gap before the second game, when left-hander Derek Holland (11-6) was set to pitch for Texas against right-hander Ervin Santana (9-12). That was the scheduled matchup for Saturday’s game, which was called off four hours after its scheduled start because of rain.
Los Angeles trailed 4-3 in the ninth before a one-out single by Maicer Izturis, retired on a reversed call two innings earlier. Nathan walked Chris Iannetta before Trout struck out to bring up Hunter.
Garrett Richards (4-3) retired Nelson Cruz with two runners on in the eighth, and Ernesto Frieri pitched a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 26 chances.
That wasn’t what the Orioles and their fans wanted to see while watching the Rangers game on the scoreboard in center field in Baltimore. An Angels’ loss would have clinched the Orioles’ first postseason berth since 1997.
Yu Darvish struck out seven in 6 2-3 innings but came out after Trout’s homer, which trimmed the lead to 4-3, and Hunter’s double.
Alexi Ogando relieved and induced an inning-ending grounder on a full-count pitch to Pujols, who already had two singles. With primary setup man Mike Adams injured, Ogando stayed on for the eighth.
Cruz hit his 24th homer for Texas, a two-run shot in the second, an inning after the right fielder threw out Trout on the bases.
Trout started the game with a walk and quickly got his 48th stolen base. His 30th homer, a solo shot to straightaway center, came on the first pitch Darvish threw him in the seventh.
After the stolen base in the first, Trout tried to advance on Hunter’s flyball to right. But Cruz threw a one-hop strike to third baseman Adrian Beltre to retire Trout, who slid head-first into the same side of the base where Beltre was.
Izturis led off the seventh with a weakly hit ball that dropped between the mound and first base. Mitch Moreland fielded the ball, and tossed to Darvish, who made the catch, tagged the base and showed the ball to umpire Mark Wegner, who signaled safe.
Washington charged out of the dugout to argue, but umpires huddled and called Izturis out, bringing out Scioscia. Two batters later, Trout homered.
Trout had the first of three consecutive two-out singles in the third and scored on Pujols’ hit.
Elvis Andrus drew a two-out walk in the third and scored on Josh Hamilton’s single that snapped the slugger’s 0-for-17 career mark against Zack Greinke. Beltre hit a popup to shallow right field that Hunter never saw, and it dropped for an RBI double and a 4-1 lead.
”You face a Greinke, you’re going to be fortunate you got four runs,” Washington said. ”He had good stuff out there today. We got four runs on him and it was enough to get us into the ninth inning with the lead, we just didn’t shut it down.”
Notes: The 21-year-old Trout is the youngest player with a 30-30 season. He needs two stolen bases to become only the third player ever with 30 homers and 50 stolen bases. The others? Eric Davis (1987) and Barry Bonds (1990). … Hamilton, who struck out three times, has 126 RBIs. … There were no weather issues Sunday for the first-ever split doubleheader at Rangers Ballpark.