It was November 2007 when Torii Hunter left the Twins to sign a free-agent contract with the Angels.
The Twins had a few good years after Hunter left, but it hasn’t been the same as when he was manning center field, when they won four division titles over a five-year stretch.
The Twins have lost a number of key players, but, in the opinion of manager Ron Gardenhire, none of the departures hurt their ability to win more than the loss of Hunter.
“He’s killing me. I’m not exactly happy when he does it against us, but I’m proud,” Gardenhire said Sunday, after Hunter hit his 300th career home run against his old team and drove in three runs in Detroit’s 5-2 victory at Target Field. “He started in this organization and has had a heck of a career. … You know he still plays the game with all the enthusiasm that he played with when he was here. I tip my hat to him. He’s one of the classiest guys in the game.”
In the seven seasons since his departure, Hunter has hit .291 with eight home runs and 27 RBI against his old team, including his big day Sunday.
Hunter repeated what he has said in the past — that he never wanted to leave here.
“Me and Bill Smith didn’t come to an agreement, we didn’t agree to some things, and that’s the business side of baseball,” Hunter said. “I hate that it went that route, but I’m still playing the game that I love and loved to play when I was a child.”
To give one an indication why the Twins have not dominated the division like they did when Hunter was on the team, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are the only players left on the Twins roster from when Hunter played at the Metrodome.
“The other guys [I don’t know],” Hunter said. “Aaron Hicks, I talk to him on Twitter and on the phone a couple of times. I think he’s going to be a very good player.”
In Hunter’s nine full seasons with the Twins, he hit .271 and averaged 21 home runs and 79 RBI per year, and he hasn’t slowed down since leaving. He has hit .286 over the past six seasons and averaged 21 homers and 86 RBI in his five seasons with the Angels.
“He was a cornerstone here, he meant a lot to our baseball team and this organization,” Gardenhire said. “We know how the game is. It changes, and he went elsewhere, but he did a lot of really good things here. You know a class act, like I said.
“… he always has been a really good player. He came up through our system and was one of our big leaders. He made sure we played the game the right way and made sure these guys respected it. He still carries that with him everywhere he goes. He’s well respected.”
Detroit starter Doug Fister limited the Twins to just two hits over seven-plus innings on Sunday and Gardenhire wasn’t happy about the lack of offense by his Twins.
“We need guys to get going, get the guys in the middle to drive them in, but you have to have people get on base,” Gardenhire said. “It’s our batting overall, up and down, it’s not where we need to be.
“It’s not from a lack of work, they’re working really hard and trying to get it done, but you have to show us on the field. You have to get it done. Our pitching is coming along pretty decent, giving us a chance, but our offense, they have to get hits and score some runs for you.”
The Twins hit .232 against the Phillies and Tigers in this home series so far.