A week after his 40th birthday, Torii Hunter hit a memorable home run Saturday night. Two days before his 40th, Alex Rodriguez hit three of them.
Three is greater than one, and on Saturday, Rodriguez’s Yankees were greater than Hunter’s Twins, rallying for four runs in the ninth off All-Star closer Glen Perkins for a stunning 8-5 victory before the biggest crowd in four years at Target Field.
“He’s put together a pretty phenomenal season, coming back from not playing for a year. It’s not easy to do when you’re 30, much less 40,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of Rodriguez, who ignored the constant and vociferous boos of the 40,660 in attendance to bash three titanic blasts, the last one on Perkins’ first pitch in the ninth. “He’s still quick, still powerful, still doing damage,” Molitor said.
A-Rod, who turns 40 on Monday, was the headliner, but little-known backup catcher John Ryan Murphy wasn’t bad, either, capping New York’s four-run ninth with his first homer of the season, and second of his career, handing Perkins his second blown save in a week, after 28 consecutive successful ones. Murphy’s blow to deep right-center turned a tie game into another can-you-believe-it chapter in the Twins’ history against New York
“I threw a slider up and away,” Perkins said of the 2-2 pitch to Murphy. “Obviously that’s not where I’m trying to throw it.”
Nobody threw it to the right spot against Rodriguez, who spoiled what looked like a feel-good night for the Twins.
“There were days in my 20s when I couldn’t do that,” said Rodriguez, whose last three-homer game came in 2010. “It feels good to do it right before my 40th birthday … I’m working hard. I’m healthy, I’m happy and I’m appreciating everything the game has to offer.”
Minnesota jumped to a 5-0 lead against ex-Cy Young winner CC Sabathia on the strength of home runs from Aaron Hicks and Hunter, then shut down for the night. Minnesota collected just one hit, a meaningless eighth-inning single, after Hunter’s third-inning, three-run homer.
That homer, Hunter’s 16th of the season, was supposed to be the night’s biggest memory, since it was also his 208th career blast as a Twin. That’s one more than Hunter’s mentor, Kirby Puckett, hit for the Twins, and it came on a night, by coincidence, when Hunter visited with Kirby Puckett Jr. before the game.
But A-Rod trumped all that, spoiling Tommy Milone’s strong start — Rodriguez’s first homer, which landed in the second deck in left field, was the Yankees’ only hit in the first six innings — and spoiled the Twins’ chance of clinching a series against the Yankees for the first time at Target Field.
“We kind of shut down offensively,” Molitor said. “You get five runs against a good team, you hope you can find a way to win that game. That’s why you’ve got to keep adding on. ”
Molitor didn’t get to see his team’s meltdown, having been ejected, for the second time as a manager, in the sixth inning. Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson called Hicks out with the bases loaded on a checked swing, and Hicks and Molitor both complained.
“I thought it was close enough for him to ask for help on. I don’t think it was something he had a very clear look at, not if he’s concentrating on the pitch,” Molitor said. “But he thought he saw enough to call it a swing, and I just voiced my opinion that I thought it was too close for him to make that call. ”
Molitor said he hadn’t planned to confront Nelson, but the umpire gave him little choice.
“It was puzzling in that I was trying to make a case from the top of the dugout that I thought he should have asked for help, and he told me he couldn’t hear me about five times,” the manager said. “I went out to tell him. He said, ‘You can’t argue that,’ and then he threw me out. I don’t know if his intent was to try to get me out there so he could throw me out, you’d have to ask him.”