CLEVELAND – He will be 40 years old in two months, so the question is worth asking: Does Torii Hunter even have a triple in him anymore?
“Oh, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere,” Twins manager Paul Molitor deadpanned. “He might need something [crazy] going on in the outfield, though.”
Nothing crazy happened on Friday, though, so when Hunter rounded second base in the sixth inning, his first career cycle in sight, he settled instead for his second double, a 4-for-4 night, and the starring role in the Twins’ third consecutive victory, 9-3 over the Indians.
The Twins improved to 7-1 in May, and with 56 runs scored this month, they are the top scoring team in baseball by far. They have scored at least eight runs in four of their past six games, and on Friday piled up six doubles and a home run.
Yet the most hopeful sign of the night was Mike Pelfrey’s bounce-back performance — a big relief, and not just to him. The righthander suffered a fourth-inning meltdown Sunday, hitting three batters and losing the strike zone, raising fears that his back-to-back victories were the exception. But Pelfrey was strong again Friday, and grew better as the game went on.
Oh, there was the normal Pelfrey hold-your-breath moment: A walk and a Carlos Santana double produced a third-inning run, and Santana scored on a two-out blooper to left by Lonnie Chisenhall. Pelfrey’s pitch count was approaching 60 already, and Molitor was skeptical his starter would last.
“I didn’t think he was going to have enough to get through it,” Molitor said. “It was another one of those starts where he started off fairly well, then kind of hit a little hiccup and you just don’t know how it’s going to play out. … Next thing you know, he starts pounding that sinker in there, his breaking stuff gets better,” and the Indians never threatened again.
In fact, they didn’t put another runner in scoring position over his last four innings. And the 31-year-old veteran won in a particularly Twins-like fashion: He didn’t strike out a batter, the first time that’s happened in a Pelfrey start since 2009. (Scott Diamond in 2013 was the last Twin to achieve that odd distinction.)
“I was so embarrassed with myself. I’m 31 years old, and I’m nibbling, nibbling, those first three innings,” Pelfrey said. But he righted himself before it could get any worse. Said Molitor, “I think he’s still trying to figure it out for himself.”
There’s not much figuring to be done if the Twins keep scoring like this, though Molitor knows that’s as changeable as the pitching. Still, the Twins knocked at least one ball off (or over) the wall in left-center in seven of the nine innings, piling up extra-base hits. Kurt Suzuki doubled twice, Plouffe once — and the Twins would have had two more doubles if some aggressive baserunning had paid off. Both Joe Mauer and Hunter were thrown out at second, trying to stretch their hits.
Mauer’s play was close; he was originally called safe, but ruled out on replay. But Hunter? “He’s been reading that [Kennys] Vargas baserunning manual, I think,” Molitor laughed about the out-by-30-feet tag. “Those two had a great laugh about that one.”
Hunter didn’t have to stretch anything in the fifth inning, when Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer buzzed him with a changeup. Hunter looked around, shook it off — and blasted the next pitch 400 feet, far up the left-field bleachers, his fourth homer of the season and first one outside Target Field.
Then he added a bases-loaded blast off the wall in the sixth, putting the game away with a four-RBI night.
“He was definitely thinking triple,” Molitor said. “But he said the carom came off clean and there was no opportunity.”