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By George, Rangers build seven-game lead

By George, Rangers build seven-game lead

ARLINGTON -- Former President George W. Bush was the Rangers' managing general partner from 1989-94.

During those five years, Bush could only dream of the Rangers having the kind of pitching they have been getting this season. Maybe that's why Bush called his buddy Nolan Ryan at the last minute to see if the Rangers club president had any extra tickets to Sunday's game against the Angels.

Turns out Ryan was able to accommodate both the former president and his wife, Laura. They were all sitting in the front row on a hot Sunday night and were able to witness close up the work of Tommy Hunter, who remained undefeated with a 6-4 victory over the Angels at the Ballpark in Arlington.

A crowd of 38,230 showed up under the Full Thunder Moon, raising the total to 170,848 fans who came out for the four-game series. There were also 426 dogs on Dog Night, as well as President Bush.

"That was awesome," Hunter said about pitching in front of the former President. "That was really cool. I actually got to meet him. I saw him around 6:35 [p.m.] and got his autograph and a picture. He said, 'Go get 'em, big boy.' He knew who I was. He said, 'I know who you are,' and I said, 'I know who you are, too.'"

Introductions aside, the Rangers went out and won for the third time in four games against the Angels. They'll see the Angels next weekend for three games in Anaheim, but right now the Rangers have a seven-game lead in the American League West.

"I was really happy with our effort," third baseman Michael Young said. "We came out and played hard. That's our highest priority. Everybody wants to win, but once the game starts, we have to go as hard as we can, and I was very happy with our effort."

Maybe the Rangers go too hard sometimes. They had three runners thrown out on the basepaths on Sunday. But manager Ron Washington wasn't complaining, and the Rangers have also won eight of 11 since the All-Star break, leaving them a season-high 17 games above .500. They are 6-3 against the Angels this season.

"This just puts us in a great spot," outfielder David Murphy said. "We definitely rose to the occasion and played as good of baseball this weekend as we have all season. We just need to keep this mentality and play this kind of baseball every single night."

On the Angels side, catcher Jeff Mathis said, "You're frustrated, sure. It didn't come out the way we wanted it to, but it's still July. We've got a challenge, and we've got to keep pushing on. We've been inconsistent in all aspects of the game. We've got to put it together -- pitch, hit and play defense -- and make it happen at the same time. They've played really well in the field. They played great defense in this series."

Hunter went 6 1/3 innings to get the victory and is now 8-0 with a 2.31 ERA after 10 starts. He had a two-hitter going through six innings before giving up a two-run home run to Hideki Matsui with one out in the seventh. But relievers Darren O'Day, Frank Francisco and Neftali Feliz, earning his 28th save, finished up.

President and Mrs. Bush, as was the case when he owned the team, were there to the end of a night, when it was 98 degrees at the beginning and 90 in the ninth. Feliz gave up an RBI fielder's choice to Alberto Callaspo in the ninth to make it a two-run game but retired the last two hitters on ground balls to end it.

"This series was about pitching and catching the ball," Washington said. "We did a great job pitching and catching the ball and they did, too. In three games we scored more runs than they did. They can pitch and we can pitch."

Hunter's eight-game winning streak is already the longest ever by a Rangers starting pitcher to begin a season and it's tied for the fifth longest by a starter at any point during the season in club history. Bobby Witt set the club record with a 12-game winning streak during the 1990 season.

"We have a great infield, a fast outfield that can run down balls and a pretty good catching crew," Hunter said. "That's what it is. Look at the plays that were made behind me. It happens every time out. I'm just happy to come out and have these guys behind me. It's pretty tough to beat with those guys in there."

They were pretty good offensively, too. Josh Hamilton was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, including a two-run triple in the first inning off of Angels starter Trevor Bell. Nelson Cruz was 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 14 games and Young, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus all finished with two hits each. Chris Davis had an RBI double and two walks.

"We wanted to win the series and we did," Washington said. "That's all it was. We played four games and we won three. I'm comfortable with a seven-game lead, but I'm not comfortable with the number of games we have left. We've got to keep playing baseball. We've got another tough series coming up against Oakland."

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

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