DETROIT – Torii Hunter started Monday’s game by dancing. He ended it by screaming.
Losses will do that to you.
Home plate umpire Joe West ruled Hunter swung at a Joe Nathan pitch Monday, ending Minnesota’s 4-0 loss with two runners on base, on a strikeout Hunter insisted never happened.
“You know I didn’t swing,” Hunter said after arguing with the veteran umpire over the call. “He gave me no explanation. I think he had dinner reservations, or a concert to play in. That was terrible.”
Hunter acknowledged he might be fined for criticizing West, but said he didn’t care.
“We come out and do our job every day. That’s what I do, I come ready to play, do my job, I battle at the plate,” Hunter said. “We ask you to do your job as well. Joe West needs to do his job. And he didn’t do it well.”
West said he understood Hunter’s frustration, but defended his call.
“I thought he swung, so I said he swung,” West told a pool reporter. “They’re all great players, and any time you get called out at the end of the game on something like that, they’re going to be upset. So I understand that.”
It ended a nostalgic day for Hunter, who spent the past two seasons in a Tigers uniform before signing with the Twins last December. The outfielder, whose 17 consecutive Opening Day starts represent the longest current streak in the majors, shook hands with dozens of old friends, was loudly cheered during pregame introductions and carried on a running conversation with fans in the right-field seats.
He nearly missed out on his big ovation, though. When his name was called, Hunter was still in the dugout.
“I was dancing for the guys, trying to pump them up, and I forgot,” Hunter said. “I didn’t hear it at all, I was so locked in.”
Learning to relax
J.R. Graham considers himself “intense” on the mound even under normal circumstances. And pitching in a major league stadium for the first time was definitely not normal.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise that his first pitch as a major leaguer, a 93-miles-per-hour fastball to start the seventh inning, nearly bounced off Jose Iglesias’ helmet.
“I guess I was a little bit nervous there,” Graham said. “I almost took Iglesias’ head off.”
The Tigers shortstop got back in the box and eventually collected an infield single, and Graham walked Rajai Davis. Twins infielders gathered around the rookie pitcher and tried to decaffeinate him a little.
“[Trevor] Plouffe had some encouraging words, and so did Kurt [Suzuki]. I knew everybody had my back,” Graham said. “It was kind of a calm-me-down meeting, and I settled down after that.”
He induced a double-play grounder from Ian Kinsler and then, facing Miguel Cabrera with a runner on third, got the former MVP to foul out to first.
“I trusted Kurt,” Graham said, “and [Cabrera] got himself out.” Manager Paul Molitor congratulated Graham as he arrived in the dugout — then told him he needed another inning.
“It was kind of a big weight off my shoulders to get through that first one,” Graham said. “I felt relaxed in that second inning.”
Firing fastballs that reached 95 mph, Graham recorded two shutout innings in his debut, then presented his mother with a treasured souvenir — the ball Kinsler hit for his first big-league out.
The Santana plan
While the Twins embarked on the regular season, their second-highest-paid player, pitcher Ervin Santana, returned to his home in Clearwater, Fla. Santana, suspended for 80 games Friday after testing positive for an anabolic steroid, is eligible to return to action July 4.
The Twins are allowed to have contact with Santana during the suspension, and he can use their Fort Myers, Fla., training center, so they hope to develop a throwing program and monitor his workouts during his absence. In mid-June, the pitcher will be allowed to join a minor league team for 16 days in order to prepare for his reinstatement.