ANAHEIM -- The Rangers wanted to sign center fielder Torii Hunter in the offseason. The Angels got him instead even though Hunter still lives north of Dallas. That was bad enough for the Rangers but Hunter has spent the past three days rubbing it in and Saturday he was at his most annoying. Not only did he take another home run away for the third straight night but he was also center stage on a controversial play at home plate that had the Rangers steaming afterward on a steamy Southern California night at Angel Stadium. When it was over, the Angels had handed the Rangers their third straight defeat with a 4-3 victory, increasing their lead to 18 games in the American League West. The Rangers know they are not going to catch the Angels this year, but they also know they have lost three straight games despite having the lead in all three. That's frustrating.
"We've been close but we haven't gotten the cigar," manager Ron Washington said. "Our starting pitching has been better, that's something that we've been trying to accomplish. But haven't been able to shut down teams like Anaheim, Boston, Tampa Bay when we get a lead." Scott Feldman, just like Dustin Nippert on Friday, started strong with four scoreless innings and had a 1-0 lead. But the Angels scored two in the controversial fifth and -- after the Rangers had regained a 3-2 lead -- two more in the sixth. "You've got to stop the carnage right there," Washington said. "That's when you've got to have a shutdown inning. He threw the ball well, but after we got [the lead] back that's when you've got to have a shutdown inning." Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton left the game after four innings with further pain from the dental problem he's been experiencing all week. That left him absent in the big moment of the game in the bottom of the fifth. Hunter opened the fifth with a single and went to second on an errant pickoff throw. With one out, Mike Napoli lined a single to center. Center fielder Marlon Byrd, who replaced Hamilton, charged the ball well and made a strong throw that drifted to the left of the plate. Gerald Laird caught it and tried to tag Hunter, who attempted to dodge him by going to the inside of the baseline. That took him past home plate but he stuck out his hand and tried to swipe it as he sailed by. Hunter thought he missed the plate. So did Laird, who tagged him as Hunter desperately dove back to re-touch the plate. But veteran umpire Dale Scott ruled Hunter touched the plate the first time, much to Laird's displeasure. Washington also had something to say about it, both to Scott and afterward in his office. "That was more than a tough call," Washington said. "Dale Scott can't miss that kind of play. He just can't miss it. He told me he got his fingers on the plate as he slid past it." Said Laird, "You guys saw it. I'm not going to say anything about it. People who watched it at home and watched the game knows what it was. I'm sure when he sees it he'll know what it is. We get that run back and we're still playing the game. We can't get a break." Hunter smiled when asked about the play. "He called me safe," Hunter said. "I was safe. I was safe both times." Laird didn't help matters by arguing with Scott while Napoli raced around to third. That set up a successful squeeze bunt by Brandon Wood. "I'll take the blame for that," Laird said. "I was so shocked on the call, my mind was elsewhere." The Rangers regained the lead in the top of the sixth. Laird had an RBI single and Chris Davis drove home a run by beating out the relay on a potential inning-ending double-play grounder. That gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead and it didn't stay that way. Mark Teixeira led off the sixth with a single and Vladimir Guerrero followed with a double to right-center. That left runners at second and third. Hunter's grounder to second brought home one run. Guerrero went to third on the play and scored on a sacrifice fly by Juan Rivera. Three of the four Angels runs were brought home without a hit. "They know how to play the game," Washington said. Hunter especially when it comes to defense. After Milton Bradley singled off reliever Jose Arredondo with two out in the seventh, Hank Blalock launched a long fly ball to center. Hunter raced back and snagged it off the top of the wall to take away a home run. He did the same to Hamilton on Thursday and Byrd on Friday. "Torii is a great player," Blalock said. "He comes up with big-time plays in big-time situations. We've just got to hit it a little harder when he's out there. He almost makes it routine." It's getting that way against the Rangers.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.