First went the elbow guard. Then the foot guard. Then the batting gloves.
Torii Hunter then went to the next level, taking his jersey off and flinging it onto the Target Field grass.
A 7-2 loss to the defending AL champion Royals turned explosive in the eighth inning when Hunter and manager Paul Molitor were ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Mark Ripperger. The frustration boiled over as the Royals completed a three-game sweep of a Twins team sputtering on offense and shaky on defense.
“Just a lot of emotions,” Hunter said. “I thought it was a ball. The pitch before that, I thought it was a little up. He called it a strike, that’s fine. I thought the last pitch he called a strike was revenge because I said something about the pitch before that, because it was definitely a ball.”
The 2-2 pitch that led to Hunter’s ejection appeared to be outside, based on replays. Hunter turned to complain to Ripperger and was ejected. Molitor came out to engage Ripperger and was quickly tossed. Both of them yelled at Ripperger until crew chief Jeff Kellogg walked over and moved Hunter away.
“[Hunter has] been emotional this series,” said Molitor, who has been ejected five times as a player, three as a coach and now once as a manager. “I think he’s trying to bring out a part of this team and how to respond. I think that was a little bit more related to his own situation, maybe as it went on possibly.”
At one point Hunter had his forearm across Kellogg’s chest and was warned he was going too far. A moment later, equipment and clothing started coming off. Hunter has been ejected nine times in his career, six as a Twin.
“I thought they were cheering that I was arguing for a change,” Molitor said. “When I turned around, I saw the jersey coming off and then I realized that Torii had not reached the end of his … whatever you want to call it.”
Hunter didn’t leave the field in a timely manner, threw equipment and clothing and came into contact with an umpire. That sets up the possibility of something more than a fine.
“That’s always a possibility,” Molitor said. “I don’t want to predict or speculate how the league office is going to respond to his actions. I’m sure it will be reviewed and considered whether a suspension was appropriate or not.”
The Twins have lost three consecutive games for the first time since April 11-13. After averaging 5.1 runs a game in May — when they went 20-7 — the Twins are averaging 2.5 runs in June.
That’s going to put pressure on the pitching staff to keep the game close and for the defense to be flawless. But an announced crowd of 28,434 watched Wednesday as the Royals found those pressure points and squeezed.
They scored four runs in the first inning, including a three-run homer by Alex Gordon on a high changeup by Twins starter Kyle Gibson. After the Twins scored one run in the third, Hunter and rookie shortstop Jorge Polanco made errors in the fifth as Kansas City’s lead grew to 5-1. Joe Mauer’s throwing error in the seventh led to two more runs.
Then came the volatile eighth.
“You have bad days, all of us,” Hunter said. “Hitters, pitchers and even umpires have bad days and [Ripperger] had one. What can you do? You can’t do anything about them, can’t talk about them, can’t do anything about them. We’ll get in trouble for it. All you need to do is look at the video and decide for yourself.”