By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
10:12 PM EDT, September 16, 2011
For the second consecutive season, Tommy Hunter is helping pitch the Texas Rangers into the playoffs.
On Friday night, he did it as an Oriole.
Hunter threw seven shutout innings -- tying his season-longest outing -- and the Orioles’ offense scored often against an unusually shaky Dan Haren in an 8-3 beating of the Los Angeles Angels before an announced crowd of 24,022.
“That's my goal, to go out there and throw a complete game every time,” said Hunter, whose only other seven-inning stint was his last win, on Aug. 26. “I’ve been coming up short these last couple of outings -- getting into the seventh inning and having a rough couple of seventh innings. Today, it was a different story.”
It was the third straight win for the last-place Orioles (61-88), and their third consecutive against a club fighting for its playoff life -- after beating the wild-card hopeful Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Angels (82-63) entered Camden Yards on Friday 3 ½ games behind the American League West leading Rangers, the team that traded Hunter to the Orioles in July as part of the Koji Uehara deal.
Hunter, who won 13 games for the Rangers last season and started Game 4 of the World Series, did his part for his old club’s playoff push Friday night. He limited the Angels to just seven hits and two walks while striking out five in his best outing as an Oriole.
He also may have helped his own bank account. He pitched eight games in relief for the Rangers this year, meaning he is eligible for a playoff share, which could be a hefty bonus depending on how far the Rangers advance. Some of his old teammates contacted him after Friday’s gem.
"I think they texted me. I looked at it, and I just kind of smiled," Hunter said. "I wish those guys the best. I hope they make a deep run in the playoffs. Hope they don't forget me."
In his previous eight starts for the Orioles, Hunter (4-4) had never allowed fewer than two runs. It also was his best career game against the Angels, whom he had faced seven previous times and was just 1-4 with an 8.79 ERA.
"I thought the seventh inning had a chance to kind of get away from him and he dialed it back in and made some good pitches," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Tommy is 25. Tommy, he is still learning things about himself and about what he’s got to do. His preparation to pitch seems to get better as he gets experience and I think he has a chance to help us."
The Orioles lost the shutout in the ninth when beleaguered reliever Kevin Gregg walked a batter and served up a two-run homer to rookie Hank Conger. Gregg, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday, also allowed a two-out RBI double to rookie Alexi Amarista that was set up by a Robert Andino error. Gregg eventually picked up a strikeout to end the game and his 43-pitch inning.
"Robert made a very uncharacteristic error, but I understand the five days probably affected [Gregg] some,” Showalter said. "He’'ll be better next time out as a result of it, hopefully."
Hunter's outing complimented the Orioles’ spot-on imitation of the Angels, who are known for stealing bases, moving runners over and playing good defense. Against Haren, who entered the night 10th in the American League in ERA with a 3.06, the Orioles assumed runs would come at a premium. So they manufactured two in the third.
Nolan Reimold led off with a walk, stole second and then scored on Robert Andino's single. Andino then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Matt Angle, took third on a wild pitch and scored on J.J. Hardy’s ground out.
"What opportunities we got from [Haren] we made good use of them and some we created ourselves by being ahead in the game," Showalter said. "And [it] allowed us to do some things and push the envelope a little bit."
The Orioles scored three more in the fifth on a two-run double by Hardy and a solo homer by Mark Reynolds. It was Reynolds’ team-leading 33rd homer of the season and it broke an 0-for-21 slump. Reynolds also had a double in the sixth and scored on Reimold’s two-run homer against Angels’ reliever Tyler Chatwood.
"I didn't know it was that much," Reynolds said of the hitless streak, "but it’s always good, especially against a guy like Haren, who’s going to go out there and normally pitch a good game. He left a couple balls up and I think he was struggling a little with his command today with his cutter, and he left up some fastballs and we were able to take advantage of it."
Haren (15-9), who had allowed five total runs in his last three games, was charged with seven (six earned) on seven hits and two walks in five-plus innings Friday. He had never lost at Camden Yards previously, owning a 3-0 record and a 2.43 ERA in five starts in Baltimore.
"He's one of my best friends in baseball. We were in Arizona for I think three years together … and we hang out in the offseason a lot, play golf a lot," Reynolds said. "So I guess I can let him know about it this offseason."
NOTES: Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who hasn’t played since Sept. 9, was scratched from the lineup again Friday due to a sore right thumb. He took pre-game batting practice and continued to experience pain while making contact. He was examined by a hand specialist Friday and will undergo a MRI on Saturday. “I’m mad,” Jones said about not playing. “But at the end of the day I don’t want to hurt myself or the team and right now I’d be hurting myself and the team.” … The Orioles’ High-A affiliate, the Frederick Keys, captured the Carolina League championship series Friday with an 11-3 win over the Kinston Indians. The Keys won the best-of-five series in four games. Top prospect SS Manny Machado had a homer and four RBIs. … Saturday night is the Orioles’ annual “cardboard to leather” collection in which fans are urged to donate new and used baseball equipment for children in developing countries. Those making donations will receive autographed players’ cards while supplies last.
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