Eduardo Escobar
Hunter shakes free from slump, fuels Twins win
Eduardo Escobar

Hunter shakes free from slump, fuels Twins win

Published Jun. 27, 2015 8:20 p.m. ET

MILWAUKEE -- Only a fool would look back and trip over a rock that's in front of him.

That's the kind of sage advice Torii Hunter -- suddenly producing proverbs as well as offense -- has been trying to impart on the young Twins, who recovered from an ugly loss the night before to beat the Brewers 5-2 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Miller Park. It was the sixth time in nine games that Minnesota bounced back to win after losing its previous contest by at least six runs.

His teammates weren't tripping over that 10-4 bludgeoning they took Friday, and Hunter surely wasn't tripping over anything Saturday -- not in the outfield, nor at the plate, not on the bases, and certainly not in the visiting clubhouse, where he was smiling widely, laughing heartily and doling out some original adages postgame.


"We've been preaching: Only a fool would look back and trip over a rock in front of them," he said. "Forget what happened yesterday and go out and do what you've got to do today. . . . That's my little wisdom. I've been reading and studying; that's my Zen."

Hunter took his own message to heart in the second game of the series against the Brewers, going 3 for 4 with two home runs and a double -- his first multihit game since June 4 -- to break out of a three-week-long slump that he insisted wasn't really a slump even though he'd been hitting .183 (11 for 60) during it.

"The last couple of weeks, I've been hitting the ball well," he said. "The numbers don't show it, but it's beyond the numbers. I've been swinging the bat well, had good at bats, feeling good at the plate. I just have to keep that same feeling, and when you have days like today, it happens, and you just have to enjoy it. But I felt good the last couple weeks, and today it was a little bit of an outbreak and I'll take that."

Minnesota manager Paul Molitor agreed with the assessment and heaped praise on Hunter, who now has 10 home runs and 41 RBI on the season.

"He had a huge day; kind of ignited us with the double," Molitor said. "It was a good win for us, bounced back after kind of getting pummeled a little bit last night. Torii had a big day.

"He's been incredibly consistent with his approach to his at-bats. There've been times when the results have dipped a little bit -- we try to monitor where he's at physically -- but I think he's been getting enough blows where I still feel that he thinks he's strong. . . . I think he got to eight home runs a little faster than people thought he would this year, and kind of hasn't had a lot of power lately. But he's been just missing balls, hitting balls to the track and things like that. Today he didn't miss them."

Hunter's two home runs -- it was his 18th career two-homer game -- were overdue and welcome. He hadn't hit a baseball out of a park in 20 games, but he wasn't tripping over the drought. On Saturday, he made sure there was no doubt about either blast, sending them both far over the center-field wall.

"I've been trying to do that for a long time, actually," he said. "Yesterday I felt good; I went 0 for 4 but I swung the bat pretty well and I took the positive from that and carried it over to today."

Though the homers were an impressive reminder of the his power -- Molitor said that Hunter and teammates had "been joking with each other about who doesn't have pop these days, and he kind of took care of that" -- it was the outfielder's double that helped spark the three-run fifth inning that got the Twins on the scoreboard and turned out to be the game's difference.

After Hunter led off the inning with a double, catcher Chris Herrmann walked. Then, with leftfielder Eduardo Escobar batting, Hunter -- a former speedster with 194 career steals and, at 39 years old, unquantifiable veteran savvy -- utilized the latter to get in the head of Brewers starting pitcher Matt Garza.

With the count at one ball and two strikes, Hunter suddenly, and surprisingly, took off for third base. Escobar fouled the ball off, but Hunter's move prompted a meeting at the mound between Garza and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Before the next offering, Garza stepped off the rubber. He was tripping over Hunter.

When he got back on the mound, Garza delivered a fat pitch to Escobar, who promptly sent it to right-center field to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead.

"I think Torii distracted him a little bit with trying to steal," Molitor said. "I think as a good baserunner you try to do that. The more focus you can take away from (the pitcher), you increase the chances of him making a mistake.

"Torii's kind of doing things on his own out there; I trust his judgment for the most part. It seemed like he got a little bit of (Garza's) attention there for sure.

For his part, Hunter wouldn't reveal what he was trying to accomplish with the attempt -- he has one steal in three tries this season. He said it wasn't his gamesmanship but rather good baseball that caused the crucial sequence of events that led to the Twins taking the lead for good.

"I don't know if I got in his head or anything like that, but it's a lot of things I see that I can't tell you -- it's a secret," he said, chuckling. "I went with my gut, my instincts. . . . Those three at-bats, I thought that was pretty impressive."

Hunter's instincts have certainly been informed by many seasons and plenty of experiences. He played in his 1,300th game as a Minnesota Twin on Saturday -- "1,300?" he repeated incredulously when informed of the fact -- and his two homers moved him past Gary Gaetti into sixth place on the Twins' all-time home-run list with 202. ("Oh boy, I'm excited," he said. "That's pretty good; I didn't know that. Pass Gary Gaetti, the 'Rat', that's impressive because I watched him when I was young, so I'm honored to pass him.")

After the game, in the Twins' rollicking clubhouse with hip hop blaring and playful teammates fake-interviewing each other, the 18-year player was both humorous and introspective about his career and, in particular, this season, which is his second tour with Minnesota.

"How do you get to 1,300 when you're only 29?" he asked jokingly. "It's great, man, to have 1,300 games with the Minnesota Twins. This is where it all started and where I grew up and learned how to be a man and learned how to be a baseball player."

Minnesota, which has not had much success on the road this season (14-19), will have a chance to win the series Sunday in Milwaukee. After how poorly everything started on Friday that would be an accomplishment. When asked about his team's success in bouncing back from bad losses, Molitor said, "I think we're continuing to learn how to do that."

"The more times you face a little bit of adversity and find a way to come back and have energy and perform, it just kind of keeps pushing you in the right direction that you want to see your team go. So I like how they've been able to do that for the most part."

Hunter agreed, saying, "Of course, we're still young, we're still learning how to play, but we're trying to be as consistent as possible with some of these young guys. . . . That's what I like about this ballclub, they don't give up. We were down last night, 10-1, but we were trying our best to fight back. I definitely think we have the fight, we have the resilience, we never give up, you've been seeing it the last couple of months. I like this ballclub a lot."

At 40-34 and in second place in the AL Central, the Twins, a young group coming off four 90-loss seasons, are far exceeding expectations. And Hunter, with his power, production and proverbs regained, is trying now to enjoy and extend the success, rather than trip over the pessimistic forecasts.

"The last two months we've been playing great ball and people are just waiting for us to fall," he said. "It's amazing. It's not a fluke. We had our rough times here and there, just like any team, but we've been playing good ball the last couple months and winning, and people say it's a fluke. How? It's not a fluke. We can play."

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