Hunter isn't fazed by Yankee Stadium debut
Rangers' easygoing right-hander staying 'pretty loose'
NEW YORK -- When Tommy Hunter steps on the mound at Yankee Stadium for the first time on Tuesday night, he expects a whole lot of noise. Other than that, the Texas Rangers' right-hander has no preconceived notions of what it will be like to pitch on such a grand stage.
It is always a big deal to pitch in New York, where the lights seem brighter. But to do so for the first time in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series? That should be an experience for a man who is all of 24 years old.
"It's probably going to be loud," Hunter said. "I would expect it to be. You know, it's a baseball game. That's what these other guys keep telling you; all of us young guys. We probably have the youngest bullpen ever in the ALCS. I mean, probably. You know, just being out there with those guys, being out there with [Darren] Oliver, he pretty much says, 'It's just another game.'"
Actually, it is quite a big game -- one that could have a large bearing on whether the Rangers move past this round and move on to the World Series.
So the fact that Hunter is getting the ball in this spot says something about the faith the Rangers have not only in his ability but in his nerves. This, even though he only went four innings while allowing six hits and three runs (two earned) in a loss in Game 4 of the Division Series against Tampa Bay.
"Tommy Hunter, you know, he's not a power guy," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He's a loose guy. Doesn't let much affect him. He has belief in his ability and he goes out there and he just tries to pitch his game. I think my pitching coach and my bullpen coach do a good job of putting a game plan together, and as young as he is, he's done a great job of following that game plan.
"And not only that, he showed some maturity during the period of time that maybe he had to adjust from the game plan, and I think that's the reason why we believe in him as our guy that will throw tomorrow."
At a time of year when everything is magnified to the highest degree, Hunter sees no reason to let the urgency of the situation impact his mind-set. Hunter is a fun-loving guy, and that won't change amid the intensity at Yankee Stadium.
"I'm pretty loose the whole time," Hunter said. "That's just the way I've kept it. It's kind of a way to hide the nervousness, I guess you could say. Some people would say that. It's just a baseball game. You've got to have fun. You've been doing it since you were little. Why not be a kid when you're big?"
So the self-professed big kid will stare down a lineup that includes household names like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. He will do so with well over 50,000 Yankees fans in his face.
And this is supposed to intimidate him?
"No, I think it's pretty fun," said Hunter. "Gets the blood going, gets the adrenaline going. Especially when you see people waving flags and stuff. It gives you goosebumps. Yeah, I get them. Everybody gets them. We have been doing this all year. We have been doing this since 5 years old. I had Mom screaming at me when I was 12 -- that's probably more intimidating than people I don't know."
But mystique and aura, as Curt Schilling once put it, hover in the air in these parts this time of year. After all, the Yankees have won 27 World Series championships. The Rangers are going after their first.
Hunter has to take some of that into account, right?
"Not at all, not at all," Hunter said. "I mean, you know, there's a lot of tradition. Everybody knows that. There's 20-some-odd world championships that have been won here. Everybody knows that. We would like to win our first. So you've got to go out there and you've got to play baseball, and as soon as you step in between the lines, it's still a game. You've just got to block it out."
The season itself was a bit of a mixed bag for Hunter. It started with an oblique injury that delayed Hunter's season from starting until June 5. But once he got going, he reeled off a record of 8-0 and a 2.31 ERA over his first 10 starts. Hunter finished 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA. There were some lumps in the middle, when Hunter's attention to detail wavered -- which is not all that uncommon for someone with his level of experience, or lack thereof.
But when he allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of his last nine regular-season starts, Hunter showed his improved maturity.
"They get together every day with the catchers, and they decide how we are going to attack," said Washington. "But the only way that can be executed is if the guy that has the ball on that rubber believes in it. Tommy believes in everything we are trying to do wholeheartedly. He goes out there and he and the catcher work it and they execute it."