Hat Trick Hunter aids Saunders in victory

Hat Trick Hunter aids Saunders in win

ANAHEIM -- Bud Black thinks this could be the start of something big in his old stomping grounds.

Black, the Angels' pitching coach before taking the managerial reins in San Diego after the 2006 season, watched torrid Torii Hunter and his old team flatten his new team, 9-1, in front of 43,233 on Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

While Joe Saunders was dispatching Padres hitters like a young Buddy Black in Kansas City, the Angels -- last in the American League in home runs -- were going deep five times.

Hunter was the master blaster with three solo shots, the first time in his career he has achieved the hat trick. Kendry Morales and Jeff Mathis also unloaded homers.

"The way they've played over the last number of years -- you look at divisions won, won-loss record -- you know where they are right now is not where they want to be," Black said when asked about the Angels' sluggish start.

"The talent's there. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them go on a nice roll. It wouldn't surprise me if once they get guys healthy and get some momentum, they're going to win a lot of games."

The five homers were the most by an Angels team since June 4, 2003, in Puerto Rico when they victimized Montreal pitchers seven times, led by Garret Anderson's three bombs.

The Hunter-led thumping was the second straight pounding of the Padres by the Angels, who go for an Interleague sweep on Sunday. Jered Weaver, 6-foot-7 and in the midst of an All-Star type season, will engage 6-10 Chris Young in a duel of towering, glowering right-handers.

"Torii swung the bat like -- wow," Saunders said. "I think the kick in the butt we got in Tampa [from manager Mike Scioscia] really helped us. This is the way we're capable of doing it.

"I'm real happy with the way we played, all-around baseball. From my standpoint, every half inning I wasn't pitching was exciting to watch. We were scoring left and right."

Saunders (7-4) won for the first time in four outings but lost his shutout bid with two outs in the sixth when Kevin Kouzmanoff lifted his second homer in two nights and seventh of the season over the wall in left.

Juan Rivera's two-run single, following Vladimir Guerrero's double, handed Saunders a 2-0 lead in the first inning against starter and losing pitcher Josh Geer (1-2). Morales led off the second with his 10th homer and second in two nights.

Hunter launched his first homer, to left, leading off the third inning. Two innings later, Hunter sent his 15th homer of the season over the wall in left-center, Padres center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. making an attempt to emulate Hunter by climbing the wall. He narrowly missed snatching it.

"I told somebody in the dugout, only me could rob me," Hunter said, beaming. "But when he went up and I saw the ball disappear, I thought he caught it. I put my head down and acted like I knew it was a home run."

There was no doubt about the third one, his longest drive of the night in the seventh against southpaw Joe Thatcher. The ball landed on the rocks in left-center, at least 425 feet away.

Hunter's 16 homers have him more than halfway to his career-best 31 for a season, in 2006 with the Twins.

Mathis' two-run shot into the left-field corner in the sixth, his first of the year, had followed a two-out double by Maicer Izturis, ending Geer's night.

"I hung a couple of pitches here and there," Geer said. "I worked on staying tall, staying on top of it ... it's one hanger here and there that led to runs. If you are not sharp and leave a pitch up at this level, they can hit them out."

Saunders went 8 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out five while yielding eight hits.

"Obviously, I wanted to finish it," Saunders said. "I was a little disappointed."

Scioscia said it wasn't worth the risk in extending Saunders past the 113 pitches he'd thrown to get 25 outs, given the condition of the rotation.

There is in Saunders a lot of Black, who helped mold the young left-hander along with Mike Butcher, Black's successor. It's visible in a certain cool style and confident swagger.

"He has a better sinker than I had, better movement," Black said. "I had a better changeup. Similar curveballs."

Kevin Jepsen got the final two outs when newcomer Sean Rodriguez started a double play ranging to his right on Chase Headley's grounder to end it.

Rodriguez, summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake with Howard Kendrick getting sent down, pinch-hit for Izturis in the eighth inning and singled in his first at-bat of the season. Rodriguez was leading the Pacific Coast League with 21 homers and 60 RBIs when he was recalled.

The Angels are 4-1 in Interleague Play this season and 118-99 all-time.

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