Torii Hunter had no idea he was batting .220 against Mark Buehrle when he came to the plate leading off the seventh inning. All that Hunter knew was, he got a juicy pitch.
Hunter hit a tiebreaking home run off the four-time All-Star, and the Los Angeles Angels put another crimp in Chicago’s playoff hopes with a 3-2 victory over the White Sox on Sunday.
“Buehrle is a guy that goes right after you and he can finish you. It doesn’t matter who you are,” Hunter said. “He changes speeds, and he’s been doing that to me my whole career.
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“He threw a cutter in, and I was able to get my hands in. Actually, I guessed wrong. I was looking changeup because he struck me out on a 2-2 changeup my second at-bat. It was 2-2 again, and I said, ‘He’ll throw another one.’ My mind said something else, but my hands said, ‘No.”‘
Hunter drove Buehrle’s 89th pitch into the top level of the double-decker bullpen in left field for his 21st homer, matching last year’s total.
“My fastball didn’t have much velocity today,” said Buehrle, who has won only one of his last 14 regular-season starts against the Angels. “I was trying to come in with it and I kind of left it up and over the plate. He might have been looking there. But when you make a mistake like that, they’re supposed to take advantage of it.”
The AL West leaders took two of three from the White Sox, who dropped into third place in the AL Central. They are six games behind division-leading Detroit, and a half-game back of Minnesota.
The Angels came from behind to win for the 44th time, most in the majors. The next time they do it, they will tie the franchise record set in 2004.
The win went to Darren Oliver (5-1), who pitched a scoreless seventh in relief of Scott Kazmir in a marquee matchup of All-Star left-handers.
Kazmir and Buehrle hooked up for the first time since their July 23 showdown at Chicago, when Kazmir was pitching for Tampa Bay and Buehrle beat the Rays with the 18th perfect game in major league history.
“Anytime you’re facing a guy like Buehrle, especially after what he did to me the last time, you really have to stay focused out there no matter what the score is, no matter what count you’re in and no matter how many people are on base. And that’s what I tried to do,” Kazmir said.
Acquired by the Angels in a trade with Tampa Bay on Aug. 28, Kazmir is 0-1 in three starts with Los Angeles and has received a total of four runs of support while he’s been in the game. He gave up one run and three hits in each of his first two outings with the Angels – both against Seattle.
“I’m not worried about the wins. I mean, that’s going to come,” he said. “I know that when I give up four or five, they’re going to back me up. Today I had a defense behind me that really helped out in situations where it could have gotten out of hand.”
Kazmir threw a career-high 118 pitches over six innings against the White Sox, allowing two runs and seven hits while striking out two.
“Kaz showed us something today,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Every pitch, he didn’t give in. He didn’t have his best stuff early, but by the end of his outing he was throwing the ball very well. His pitch count was a little higher than maybe we would have liked, but he finished strong and came out fine. So that’s a good sign.”
Angels pitchers held opposing batters to two hits in 40 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the six-game homestand. The White Sox are 4 for 48 in those situations over their last seven games.
Brian Fuentes got two outs for his major league-leading 41st save in 47 chances.
Buehrle (12-8) gave up three runs – two earned – and five hits in seven innings. The left-hander became the first pitcher in the 109-year history of the White Sox to make 30 or more starts in nine consecutive seasons. He has thrown 1,988 1-3 innings since the start of the 2001 campaign, the most in the majors during that stretch, and is two innings from reaching 200 for the ninth straight year.
Buehrle had a 2-0 lead before throwing his first pitch thanks to Carlos Quentin‘s two-run single.
The Angels got one back in the bottom half on Bobby Abreu‘s sacrifice fly. They tied it in the third when Howie Kendrick doubled and scored on Maicer Izturis‘ single.
Izturis, normally a middle infielder, started at third base for the second time this season and batted leadoff for the second time in place of Chone Figgins, who is 4 for 30 lifetime against Buehrle. … Buehrle is 1-5 with a 4.69 ERA in 10 starts since his perfect game.