Halos squeeze out win, preserve gem

Halos squeeze out win, preserve gem

NEW YORK -- Before heading home to Pine Bluff, Ark., to bury his beloved grandmother, Torii Hunter had one last blast for the road on Friday night.

Lifting the Angels as he's done all through his debut season, Hunter rocketed a single through the middle to drive home the run that beat the great Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, 1-0, in front of 53,997 Yankee Stadium fans.

The fans had been treated to a classic duel between Ervin Santana and Sidney Ponson, complete with extraordinary defense from both sides, before Rivera was unable to contain the Angels in the ninth and Francisco Rodriguez finished the job for Santana (12-5) to claim his 45th save.

Setting the table for Hunter, Mark Teixeira walked leading off the ninth, and pinch-runner Reggie Willits moved to third on Vladimir Guerrero's single to right. On a 2-2 count, Hunter slashed Rivera's cut fastball past the mound into center field -- and that was all the offense the Angels would need for their fifth win in a row and 14th happy ending in the past 16 games.

The Angels are 7-1 on a remarkable trip through Baltimore, Boston and New York, with two more games left. Hunter will miss both, with Gary Matthews Jr. taking his place in center field on Saturday against right-hander Mike Mussina.

"Torii's been playing with a lot of emotion this week," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I know in his heart it was good to get back home last week [on July 22-23]. He came back, kept his focus and played baseball. It's been a good release for him. Playing the game is helping him get through a tough time."

Hunter missed two games on the Angels' most recent homestand against the Indians to go see his ailing grandmother, Edna Cobbs, who had helped raise him. She died two days after they'd had a last, memorable visit.

"I got a chance to see my grandmother last week," Hunter said. "When I came back Friday, she passed. I was able to talk to her, communicate with her. Then I came back and had a pretty good week."

Pretty good, indeed. Hunter is batting .375 in the eight games on the trip with five homers and 15 RBIs. He has a 14-game hitting streak, leads the team in RBIs with 59 and is murdering the vaunted AL East this season with 10 of his 18 homers. He came within a few feet of launching another homer against Ponson, his drive to right sending Bobby Abreu crashing against the wall to make the play in the fourth.

Hunter was visibly emotional as he made the rounds with teammates after the game, having shown yet again how big-time athletes respond when it counts.

"She helped raised us, discipline us," Hunter said of his grandmother. "A lot of things she taught me I carry with me today." Such as? "Treat people like you want to be treated. Can't ever go wrong. I'd treat people wrong in the 'hood, she'd spank me."

Edna Cobbs, Hunter related, was a serious baseball fan with a special appreciation for one of his former Twins teammates, Johan Santana.

"If she was here today," Hunter said, "she probably would say, 'Be patient, baby. He's gonna throw you one.'"

Rivera rarely gives up game-winners, his numbers this season bordering on the absurd: 1.49 ERA, 30 hits and five walks allowed against 58 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.

"I haven't had much success with him in the past," Hunter said. "I think I'm a little more mature. The guy's nasty with that cutter. I wanted to hit it hard past Derek Jeter, past somebody."

He got extended and hit it hard past Rivera, whose loss was his fourth against four wins. In seven previous plate appearances against the Yankees' legend, Hunter had one hit, one walk and five strikeouts.

Just as startling as Hunter's blast through the middle was Teixeira's five-pitch walk to get things going.

"It's a full moon if he walks someone," Scioscia said of Rivera.

"If you expand your zone against him, he's going to eat you alive," said Teixeira, who was 1-for-9 against Rivera with two strikeouts. This was the first time he'd walked against him.

"It's no fun," Teixeira added. "He'll mix in that two-seamer with the cutter. He missed low tonight."

Guerrero went up hacking against Rivera. After a big swing and miss on the first pitch, he went the other way to right for his single. He's now 3-for-7 against Rivera.

"We got a run against the best closer in the game," said K-Rod, who struck out Alex Rodriguez looking at a changeup to open his perfect ninth. "Everyone did a great job tonight."

It started with Santana, who struck out eight and yielded five singles and two walks (one intentional) over eight brilliant innings, while Ponson was holding the Angels at bay through seven thanks in part to catches at the wall on drives by Hunter, Anderson and Howie Kendrick.

Santana escaped a two-on, none-out first inning by striking out Abreu and A-Rod before retiring Jason Giambi on a popup. Giambi also left runners in scoring position in the fourth and sixth innings.

Santana took a line drive by Robinson Cano off the outer palm of his pitching hand leading off the seventh. The ball caromed toward shortstop Maicer Izturis, who found the ball on the grass, pivoted, fired from his knees and retired Cano with a stretch and dig by the accomplished Teixeira.

"Incredible," Teixeira said. "To make the play and the throw was incredible."

Incredible pretty well sums up the total game of the Angels these amazing days.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.