ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Torii Hunter compared himself to Kobe Bryant after hitting three home runs in a game for the first time in his big league career.
"It's like you're in a zone. And when you're in a zone, a lot of good things can happen," said Hunter, whose three consecutive solo shots helped power the Los Angeles Angels to a 9-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
"Tonight I felt like Kobe. When Kobe's in a zone, he's hitting everything. And now I know how it feels. That was a lot of fun."
Joe Saunders (7-4) came within two outs of his third career complete game and second this season. The left-hander allowed a run and eight hits, striking out five before manager Mike Scioscia lifted him after a season-high 113 pitches with two runners on base.
Kendry Morales and Jeff Mathis also went deep for the Angels -- but this night belonged to Hunter, who leads the club with 16 homers and 49 RBIs. He was left on deck when Bobby Abreu struck out to end the bottom of the eighth inning, costing him a chance at tying the big league record for home runs in a game.
"I was thinking, maybe I can get one more at-bat," said the two-time All-Star, who lined out in his first at-bat of the night. "Bobby's a guy who can get on base, and he was trying to work him and do his best to get on.
"I was cheering for him. I was like: "Come on, baby! Get a hit. Stay in there. Foul him off.' I was screaming at him, and he was looking back at me like: `I'm trying!' But it just didn't work out for me."
Hunter became the 12th player in Angels history to homer three times in a game, and the first to do it since Garret Anderson in 2003 against the Montreal Expos in Puerto Rico.
"A player has to be locked in to hit three in one game," said Padres second baseman David Eckstein, a former Angels shortstop who was in the other dugout when Adam Kennedy hit three in ALCS clincher against Minnesota in 2002. "When Torii gets hot, he can do that. He was able to sit on his pitch tonight and get it the first two times. The third time he had to battle a little bit before he got a pitch he could handle."
Hunter, who homered his first time up in Friday night's 11-6 win, put the Angels ahead 4-0 when he led off the third with a drive over the left-field fence. He made it 5-0 in the fifth with a two-out drive. Center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. made a valiant leaping attempt to pull it back, but the ball cleared his glove.
"When he went up and I saw the ball disappear, I thought he caught it and my heart just dropped," Hunter said. "But then he slapped his glove and I said, `Aw, he didn't get it.' After I touched home play and came back to the dugout, I was telling somebody: `Only ME can rob me.' But he scared me right there. That was a good effort by Tony. He really put the chills in me."
In the seventh, Hunter connected against lefty Joe Thatcher and was urged out of the dugout by the crowd of 43,233 to take a curtain call. But despite his efforts, there is still one thing he would rather do.
"Robbing home runs still feels better," the eight-time Gold Glove center fielder said. "If I can rob three home runs in one game, man, I would throw a party. All the fans, all the media, everybody would be invited. And they'd get free admission."
The first four Angels home runs came off Josh Geer (1-2), who gave up seven runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. Padres ace Jake Peavy was scheduled to start, but was placed on the disabled list Saturday because of a strained tendon behind his right ankle. The 2007 Cy Young winner is expected to be out at least four weeks.
Geer was the second Padres pitcher in four games to give up four home runs. Chris Young did it last Tuesday in a 6-4 loss at Dodger Stadium.
One night after recording season highs with 11 runs and 18 hits against the Padres, the Angels scored in each of the first three innings. Juan Rivera hit a two-run single in the first and Morales led off the second with his 10th homer.
Mathis chased Geer with a homer into the lower seats in the left-field corner after a two-out double by Maicer Izturis. The homer was the first for Angels' catcher since Aug. 6, 2006.
Thatcher was recalled from Triple-A Portland to replace Peavy on the roster and he plunked his first batter, Erick Aybar, after Mathis' home run.
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