Sid Hartman: Hunter sticks it to his old team again

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2013 - 12:08 PM

He remains a force six years after leaving the Twins.

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Detroit's Austin Jackson greeted Torii Hunter as he arrived at home after his two-run homer Sunday, the 300th homer of the former Twins star's career.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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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.”

Offense lacking

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.

Jottings

• While Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has his critics, coach Leslie Frazier is not one of them. “This will be his third season, his second as a full-time starter,” Frazier said. “We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in December when we went 4-0 of what he can be. We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking forward for him to carry it over to our next season.”

Trevor Plouffe hit .333 in the four rehab games that he played at Rochester and hit a home run. That got him warmed up to come play for the big-league club when he was activated by the Twins from the disabled list Saturday.

Dwight Opperman, the well-respected local businessman who died this past week at 89, was one of the bigger shareholders in the Wild.

• One thing the Gophers men’s basketball team lacked last season was a consistent three-point shooter. They might have found the guy to solve that problem in Malik Smith, who played for coach Richard Pitino at Florida International last year, where he set a school record with 96 threes and ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference and No. 16 nationally with an average of three per game.

Chris Mannix’s Sports Illustrated big board has the Timberwolves taking UCLA shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad with their ninth pick in the NBA draft and then taking Rudy Gobert, a center out of France, 26th overall. Muhammad worked out for the Wolves on Sunday.

• Four years ago, Mike Miller didn’t make much of a contribution with the Timberwolves and had talked of retiring, but he has been a big factor for the Heat. In these NBA Finals, he made eight of his first nine three-point tries, and in last year’s championship clincher he made seven of eight threes.

• Twins second-round pick Ryan Eades did not start for Louisiana State in its College World Series opener Sunday night. Eades is 8-1 this season with a 2.79 ERA with 100 innings pitched.

Miguel Sano has struggled a bit since being called up to Class 2A New Britain hitting .091 through five games with two runs scored and three RBI. But Sano is still seeing the ball well, drawing six walks.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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