If given a choice of cutting down the potential tying run at home plate or delivering a tiebreaking hit late in the game, Torii Hunter would always go with the clutch defensive play.
On Monday night, he didn’t have to choose. He did both.
Hunter threw out Andy LaRoche in the seventh inning and had an RBI double in the eighth, leading the Los Angeles Angels over the skidding Oakland Athletics 4-1.
”Throwing the runner out is much better,” said Hunter, playing his first full season in right field after winning nine Gold Gloves in center. ”Defense is everything to me, man. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve gotten better as a hitter, but defense is what got me here and I’ll never forget that. So I never slack on defense, no matter if I’m struggling at the plate or not.”
LaRoche and Cliff Pennington singled against Jered Weaver with two outs in the seventh, and Coco Crisp lined a single to right field on a 1-2 pitch. Hunter charged the ball while third base coach Mike Gallego frantically waved LaRoche around, but Jeff Mathis slapped the tag on LaRoche while falling backward.
”Whether they sent him or not, I was just ready to throw. And that’s what you should do as an outfielder,” Hunter said. ”You’ve always got to be ready to make the play. Mathis stayed in there pretty good, so you’ve got to commend him on that.”
The Athletics had scored only six runs over their previous four games, so Gallego’s decision to send LaRoche in that situation was the only one.
”I was all for it,” manager Bob Geren said. ”The way it turned out, it was a close play and a pretty nice play by the catcher.”
Bobby Abreu grounded into a fielder’s choice after former Angels closer Brian Fuentes (1-7) opened the eighth by walking Erick Aybar. Hunter greeted Michael Wuertz with a double to the wall in right-center on a 2-2 pitch, easily scoring Abreu.
Jeff Mathis capped the rally with a two-out, two-run single off Wuertz, who came in holding opponents to a .103 batting average – the best mark among AL relievers.
Fuentes has been charged with the loss in each of his last four appearances, setting an Oakland record. The A’s have dropped six straight overall.
Scott Downs (2-1) worked a scoreless eighth, retiring David DeJesus on a groundout after giving up two-out singles to Hideki Matsui and Conor Jackson. Rookie reliever Jordan Walden pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save.
Weaver, the AL pitcher of the month for April, failed in his fifth attempt to become the major leagues’ first seven-game winner — this time with a hard-luck no-decision after four straight losses.
The right-hander, whose previous victory was a shutout at Oakland on April 25, allowed one run and six hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks against a starting lineup that had seven players batting .255 or lower.
Weaver has one more chance to get his first victory in May. A loss or a no-decision next Saturday at Tampa Bay would make him the first major league starter to win at least five games without a loss one month – and then lose four or more the following month without a win — since July-August 2003, when current teammate Joel Pineiro did the swift about-face with St. Louis.
”I just got off to too good of a start, so the expectations are high. I guess I’m back to being a normal pitcher,” Weaver said. ”But it’s nothing I’m worried about. I’m just going to keep throwing the ball and let the chips fall where they may. I guess quality starts aren’t good anymore. You’ve got to pitch complete games and shutouts.”
Josh Outman allowed a run and five hits in seven innings after getting recalled from Triple-A Sacramento to make a spot start for injured Brandon McCarthy in the opener of a four-game series between the AL West rivals.
It was the fifth straight game in which an Athletics starting pitcher allowed only one run, and none of those games resulted in a victory – the first time that has happened since the franchise moved from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968.
Outman, making his first big league appearance since June 19, 2009, made 16 previous starts for Oakland before missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The 26-year-old left-hander won his last four starts with the River Cats before getting recalled.
”I was pretty excited, but I was trying to keep my emotions under wraps,” Outman said. ”It feels like being at home. I feel like this is where I belong. I didn’t prove that in the spring, but hopefully I can show over a period of time that this is where I should be.”
Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI single by Abreu. Matsui, who spent last year with the Angels, tied it in the third with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly – his first RBI against the Angels this season after 22 fruitless at-bats.
NOTES: Oakland designated LHP Jerry Blevins for assignment to make room for Outman on the 25-man roster. Blevins appeared in 15 games with a 4.40 ERA. … The A’s haven’t lost more than six straight games since a season-ending seven-game skid in 2009.