MILWAUKEE – Torii Hunter used to joke about young players having to grow “man muscles” before they could hit for power.
Saturday, old man muscles took over at Miller Park.
Hunter, who turns 40 next month, highlighted his 1,300th game in a Twins uniform by hitting two homers and a double in a 5-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
And the homers weren’t cheapies. The one off former Twins teammate Matt Garza in the sixth inning traveled an estimated 430 feet to left-center field. Hunter’s ninth-inning shot off Corey Knebel traveled 417 feet to straightaway center.
“You have to have kids in college to hit them like that,” said Hunter, who passed Gary Gaetti for sixth place on the Twins’ all-time home run list with 202.
The cheering between Twins fans and Brewers fans has been vigorous this weekend, but the locals had no answer in the bottom of the ninth inning when Hunter jogged out to right field as fans chanted “Torii! Torii!” following the 18th multihomer game of his career.
“[The players] have been joking to each other about who doesn’t have pop these days,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He kind of took care of that.”
The Twins lost 10-4 on Friday night, when they fell behind by nine runs after two innings, but they joked around in the clubhouse before Saturday’s game as if they had won. Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar were snapping fingers to country music. Trevor Plouffe and Mike Pelfrey needled Kyle Gibson.
As it turned out, Escobar hit a big three-run homer and Gibson (5-6) gave up two runs over 6⅔ innings to break a five-start winless streak.
“We’re continuing to learn how to do that,” Molitor said. “The more you face adverse times and you find a way to come back and have energy and perform, it just kind of keeps pushing in the right direction you want to see your team go. So I like how they have been able to do that for the most part.”
The Twins were down 1-0 in the fifth when they strung together some good plate appearances — and Hunter might have played a role in Escobar’s homer.
Hunter led off the inning with a double to left off Garza. Chris Herrmann tried to bunt a 1-1 pitch but pushed it foul. The .172-hitting catcher then fought back to draw a walk.
On Garza’s 1-2 pitch to Escobar, Hunter took off for third.
“He had a little rhythm of looking at me, looking at the plate, then he goes home,” Hunter said of Garza (4-10). “When he looked at the plate, I was able to time it and just go.”
Escobar fouled off the pitch, so Hunter went back to second. But Hunter suddenly became an important part of Garza’s life. Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy went to the mound for a conference. Then Hunter began bouncing off the base, forcing Garza to step off the rubber and look at him. Garza finally threw home, but the ball was in Escobar’s wheelhouse and he hammered it to right-center field for his fourth homer of the season and 3-1 Twins lead.
“The more focus you can take away from him increases the chance of him making a mistake,” Molitor said. “You don’t know with a guy who has been around as long as Matt if it made a huge difference for him. Torii is kind of doing things on his own out there. I kind of trust his judgment for the most part.
“It seemed like he got a little bit of his attention, for sure.”
Hunter’s first homer made it 4-1 in the sixth. The Brewers scored in the seventh to chase Gibson, but Blaine Boyer struck out Gerardo Parra with two on to get out of the inning.
Hunter’s second homer made it 5-2 in the ninth. Glen Perkins then needed only nine pitches for his 24th save in 24 chances.
“I’ve been feeling good at the plate,” Hunter said. “I just have to keep that same feeling, and when you have days like [Saturday] it happens and you just have to enjoy it.”