|"If you have a passion for the game, the reason you do is to win the World Series," Hunter says. (US Presswire)|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- What's happening here is, Torii Hunter is playing with his baseball life flashing before his eyes.
He's racing the sands sifting through the hourglass. Out-running his last few days of certainty in Anaheim. Driving hard toward one, final thing he desperately wants to do in a baseball uniform.
"All of the failures, all of the disappointments, all of the great things I've done," he says. "I think about all those things going all the way back to Minnesota, the things with the Angels. I try to boil them all down. And the individual things, the Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves ... if you have a passion for the game, the reason you do is to win the World Series.
"That's what it comes down to, here in late September. Winning the World Series. All of those things are bottled up inside me."
So he is uncorking those bottles, one at a time. Pop! There's a game-tying single in the seventh inning against the Mariners on Wednesday night. Pop! There's the game-winning single two innings later. PopPopPop! He has 23 RBI in his past 24 games.
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Will it be enough? Can it be enough? Following Thursday's 9-4 whipping by Seattle, the Angels remained two games behind Oakland for the final AL wild-card slot and were in danger of falling behind the Rays.
Playing from behind all summer, they now are looking to pull rabbits from hats nightly.
At 37, Hunter still packs a magician's cape and a magic wand.
"All of my critics out there saying I'm losing it ... they've lost it," Hunter says, smiling.
Exactly who these critics are, it's hard to say. Look around and, mostly, there's more love for Hunter than there was Mary Tyler Moore in the last days of WJM. The man can still turn the world on with his smile. And, lately, take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.
As Rangers manager Ron Washington said last week, Hunter is playing as if he's found the Fountain of Youth.
In the right-field seats during the past month, fans nightly are hoisting signs begging the Angels to re-sign him -- or, as was the case Thursday, proclaiming the area as "Torii Town."
On the Angels' radio station before Thursday's game, owner Arte Moreno acknowledged, "If we don't figure out a way to sign him we're going to get hung, aren't we?"
The five-year, $90 million deal that seems like it was signed yesterday is up after this season. Hunter continually says he hopes the club talks to him before assuming he'll be too expensive and turning him into a free agent. Clearly, there are financial issues with the Vernon Wells deal and roster issues with Wells, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Kendrys Morales aboard for 2013.
Then again, sandwiched in the two hole between Trout and Pujols, Hunter's .342 batting average since the All-Star break ranks second in the American League and fifth in the majors. He's also hitting .345 with runners in scoring position this season, and .424 with runners in scoring position and two out.
Right now, though, all he's worried about is his next plate appearance with runners in scoring position.
It's as if he's moving the Angels toward the finish line through sheer force of will.
Twice in 13 years, he's traveled as far as the American League Championship Series. In 2002, his Twins were steamrolled by the Angels in five games. In 2009, his Angels were knocked off by the Yankees in six games.
This looked like his best chance yet. At his home in Dallas on that day last winter when the club signed Pujols, Hunter rhapsodized about Moreno giving him his best chance yet to win a World Series ring. Now here it goes, blowing in the wind like a discarded wrapper.
"I don't want to go out not even getting to a World Series," Hunter says. "My whole life, it's all I've wanted to do.
"Now that I'm older and more mature, that's what I really want to do."
The angle of the sun is different on these late September days. It accentuates wrinkles and pennant races. And gaps in a man's career.
Back before the sun started setting, before the 2008 season, the Royals offered Hunter even more cash than did the Angels.
"Pretty good grip," he acknowledges.
But he didn't want to follow the money. He wanted to take the best swing at a World Series he could get, and so he did.
And he is.
The next week could get planes, trains and automobiles crazy. There are wild scenarios out there if the Angels can even pull into a tie with Oakland. Such as, including a tiebreaker game, the Angels playing four games in four different cities in five days beginning Wednesday.
"That's why they have coffee," Hunter quips. "I'd rather be the guy flying than the guy on the couch."
Thursday afternoon did not move Hunter any closer to his dream. All that's left now is the weekend, and a few days next week. Six games in six days. Another cold winter is fast approaching. As they say, he's not getting any younger.
The first six weeks sabotaged the season. If they had those six weeks back and even played average baseball, he will tell you, the Angels would not be in this position.
Now, he only hopes this loss wasn't his final game for the home side in Angel Stadium -- for his career or, mainly, for this season.
"As my granddad used to say, don't get caught up in the emotions," he says. "Man goes by reason."
And as long as it is reasonable to believe that he can push his team into late next week, that's what he'll hold onto.
"Two out, six to go," he says. "We've got to win no matter what."