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Hunter settles down, slams door on champs

Anointed new closer, right-hander notches save after shaky start to ninth

BALTIMORE -- It didn't take long for new Orioles closer Tommy Hunter to be tested -- and the degree of difficulty couldn't have been much higher. Opening Day. Sellout crowd at home. Facing the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Protecting a one-run lead.

And, of course, doing it all while taking over for a guy, All-Star Jim Johnson, who was traded to the Athletics during the offseason after back-to-back 50-save seasons.

Hunter hit the first batter he faced Monday, third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Hunter gave up a one-out single to Dustin Pedroia to put the tying and go-ahead runs on base. The right-hander then settled down and got designated hitter David Ortiz to fly out to deep left and struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. to nail down the 2-1 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Yes, it's only one game. But it's hard to overstate the importance of Hunter to the Orioles hopes and dreams. There are few things that take the air out of a team like being unable to seal the deal after taking a lead into the ninth inning.

"It was enjoyable. It was fun. The crowd was loud. It's always fun when everyone is standing, yelling," Hunter said. "Hopefully it's like that a lot more. I really don't know what to say. It was enjoyable."

Even though he pitched in a handful of save situations last season, going 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 68 games, it's different when that's your role. Hunter didn't find out for sure until manager Buck Showalter informed him during Sunday's workout; the manager then made the public announcement before Monday's game. Hunter could have had an easier baptism, but he was fine with jumping right into the fire.

"Earn it. That's a way of life in baseball, I think," Hunter said. "You've got to earn everything you get. One-run game to start the season off against the defending world champs? I mean, here we are."

That it came against the Red Sox in the opener didn't make it any more special, he insisted.

"No. It was baseball. It was fun," said Hunter. "I liked our crowd more than the other team. Our crowd was legit. That was awesome, and I hope they come out like that every game. If they can do that, we're going to be having a fun time."

Even though Hunter's been more accustomed to pitching in the seventh and eighth, he plans to attack hitters the same way.

"I don't think I need to change much," Hunter said. "I had a couple chances last year. I think I know what it's like. You've got to let it eat. You've got to let it go. That's the job. I started letting it eat toward the end. There was a guy on second base. You've got to dial it up a little bit. Not to say I wasn't trying the first couple guys, but adrenalin kicks in a little bit."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for
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