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Hunter pitching like a wise sage

Hunter outwits Sox to lead Rangers

ARLINGTON -- This was No. 1 vs. No. 5. This was an All-Star and World Series hero pitching against a kid who was making just his eighth Major League start and who had been pounded hard by this same opponent less than a year ago.

But this kid is not the same pitcher he was a year ago, and Tommy Hunter, the Rangers' fifth starter, proved that on Tuesday night. He went head-to-head against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and won with the help of a red-hot bullpen, pitching the Rangers to a 4-2 victory at the Ballpark in Arlington.

Beckett, who had at one point retired 14 straight hitters, pitched a complete game, but Hunter earned the victory by holding the Red Sox to one run in six innings. The Rangers' fifth starter is now 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in five starts this season.

"That was great," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "Beckett was Beckett -- just like he always is. To beat him, you have to have your pitcher go out there and match him, and that's what Tommy did."

The Rangers have now won three straight, including two over the Red Sox, who were knocked out of first place in the American League East.

"It's a huge win, because they're a great team," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "We've played great the last three days, but definitely this series. It just makes a statement that we're here and we're for real. People want to count us out, but we're still playing well. We hit a little skid [losing four straight] and the Angels are playing good. We're not in first place, but we're for real."

Hunter faced the Red Sox on Aug. 14, 2008, at Fenway Park and allowed nine runs on seven hits and one walk over 1 2/3 innings. On Tuesday night, the Red Sox managed just four hits and one walk in six innings.

"It's one of those things, I did not throw well against them last year," Hunter said. "I threw well tonight. I have four pitches. Last year, I had just 1 1/2 pitches. I didn't even have my fastball, because it was up in the zone. I threw a lot of changeups [tonight]. They didn't see that last year. When you throw four pitches for strikes, you do pretty well."

Hunter is in the rotation because of injuries to Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy. He's not coming out of the rotation anytime soon.

"It's a different Hunter," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Tonight, he was able to pitch. He did a great job."

Grumbled Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz: "He pounded the strike zone ... not bad."

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, more irritated at his own team, said tersely, "He mixed speeds. He threw the ball good. He cut the ball, he threw his curveball. He located."

Jason Jennings and Darren O'Day followed Hunter with a pair of scoreless innings, then C.J. Wilson was called upon for the third straight day. He was protecting a 4-1 lead, and a one-out walk to Jason Bay led to a run. Wilson still closed it out for his ninth save of the season. Rangers relievers have a combined 2.50 ERA since June 11 while holding opponents to a .211 batting average.

The Rangers weren't sure if Wilson would be available on Tuesday after two scoreless innings on Sunday and a four-out save on Monday. But Wilson, filling in as closer while Frank Francisco is on the disabled list, told Washington before the game he was ready to go.

"I felt fine," Wilson said. "I knew I wasn't going to be 100 percent effective, but I had a week off before the other day, so it's not like I'm overworked. It all evens out. I was not happy with the walk -- it was pretty non-confrontational -- but other than that, things worked out well."

Hunter was given a 2-0 lead right away in the first inning after Ian Kinsler led off with a double down the left-field line. Beckett came back to get Michael Young on a line drive to right and struck out Josh Hamilton. But Andruw Jones worked out a walk and, on the first pitch to Hank Blalock, the Rangers successfully converted a double steal. The ploy was called by Kinsler.

"I had a pretty good idea Beckett was going to give me a no-look," Kinsler said. "I felt if he gave me a no-look, I was going to take off and see if we couldn't get an extra run."

The Rangers did just that when Blalock lined a single through the right side to bring home both runners.

Hunter held the 2-0 lead through five innings and also retired 10 straight hitters after allowing a one-out double by Jed Lowrie in the third. That streak came to an end with a two-out single by Pedroia in the sixth. Kevin Youkilis then laced a double to right-center, chasing home Pedroia and ending Hunter's streak of 11 consecutive scoreless innings.

Hunter still kept it at a one-run game by getting Ortiz to pop out to end the inning. That was the end of his night.

"That was a tough inning right there," Washington said. "When he finished that inning, he was through."

The Rangers' offense wasn't. A double by Jones, a single by Blalock and Murphy's sacrifice fly scored a run in the seventh. An RBI single by Hamilton made it 4-1 in the eighth, giving the Rangers' bullpen a welcome cushion.

The relievers took advantage of it to preserve the victory for their fifth starter.

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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