Rangers' Hunter wraps up birthday with gem
Righty allows one run in seven-plus innings, moves to 5-0
ARLINGTON -- Usually, someone would expect to be getting gifts on their birthday rather than the one giving them.That wasn't the case Saturday. Starting pitcher Tommy Hunter gave the Rangers a gift of his own on his 24th birthday, silencing the White Sox with seven-plus innings of one-run baseball as the Rangers evened the series with a 3-1 win at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Hunter has won on his birthday for the second consecutive season. His first Major League win came exactly one year ago in a 3-1 victory over the Rays. "Hopefully I'll just keep it up," Hunter said. "Maybe next year I'll do the same thing. Maybe I'll go out there next July 3 and get another one." Hunter scattered nine hits, none of which went for extra bases, while inducing Chicago into two double plays and issuing only one walk. He allowed a runner to third only once, in the fifth inning, but he escaped with a fielder's choice groundout. He followed that frame with a three-pitch inning before retiring the side in order in the seventh on three fly balls. "He's pounding the strike zone, not making mistakes in the middle of the plate and executing his pitches," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "When you do that, you get the results he's getting. Right now he's executing very well. He's throwing strikes, keeping the ball in play. He's doing everything we'd like to see a pitcher do." With Hunter cruising through the White Sox lineup, the Rangers' offense got on the board in the second on an RBI groundout by Joaquin Arias. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz set the stage with consecutive singles before Bengie Molina walked to load the bases, moving Hamilton to third for Arias. The Rangers added another run in the fifth on Elvis Andrus' bloop single to left, scoring Arias, who led off the inning with a single. A third and final run came in the seventh on Justin Smoak's double-play grounder, scoring Cruz from third. The runs capped a night when the Nos. 2-4 hitters -- Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Vladimir Guerrero -- went a combined 0-for-9. "It doesn't matter how you get them as long as you get them," Washington said. "I don't think those guys care who got it done as long as they got it done. They might have shut down the 2-3-4 hitters tonight, but there's no telling what's going to happen tomorrow." Hunter didn't issue his first walk until the beginning of the eighth. But Alexei Ramirez followed with a ringing single to left, prompting the end of his impressive performance. He left despite throwing only 94 pitches, 68 of which went for strikes. The only run credited to Hunter came off reliever Frank Francisco, whose balk moved both runners into scoring position before Alex Rios scored Juan Pierre on a groundout to second. But Francisco quickly atoned with a strikeout of Paul Konerko and a flyout by Andruw Jones to end the inning. "Hunter threw the ball pretty good," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He made big pitches when he had to. He seemed like he was changing speeds pretty good and throwing strikes. He kept us off-balance a few times, and when we needed the hits, he came up with a big pitch." Hunter's start marked a tough-luck loss for White Sox pitcher John Danks, who surrendered only two runs on four hits in six innings. "I really just kind of got outpitched. Tommy Hunter was good today," Danks said. "You have to kind of just sort of tip your hat to him, for sure. I would have liked to walk a few less than I did. All in all, I kept the ball in the ballpark and gave us a chance to win. Like I said, Tommy Hunter was too good today." Hunter's performance continues an impressive start to his second Major League season. Since being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City, he's collected quality starts in five of six starts, with the lone exception being an injury-shortened start against the Marlins. He's also won a club record five straight home starts to start the season and has held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in all six of his starts. "The more opportunities he gets to pitch he just gains more confidence," Kinsler said. "He attacks the zone with all his pitches. When he's doing that, he's keeping hitters off-balance. That's basically what it comes down to. He's not scared and he trusts his stuff." Added Washington: "He's a pitcher. When you don't have overpowering stuff, that's what you do. You hit your spots, change speeds, keep the ball out the middle of the plate and execute your pitches. That's what you do." But Hunter is just happy to celebrate a win on his birthday, something he credits to the spectacular defense playing behind him. "These guys play defense," Hunter said. "What else can you say? It's fun, it's easy. You just go out there and pitch with these guys behind you. They make the game so much easier." Despite his defense's play to support him, it was still Hunter that received a standing ovation upon his exit, something that made his birthday that much sweeter. "It's fun. That's awesome," Hunter said. "I remember the worse standing ovation I ever got was in Boston when I gave up 11 runs. It's a lot better when you're doing well and not when you absolutely stink. "It's always fun, especially when the fans give you appreciation. We have some real good fans. I like it. I like Texas."
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.