2002: Hunter’s revenge

July 17, 2002

LEN3’s story from the next day’s Strib:

And the Twins’ 8-5 victory over Cleveland on Wednesday night at Jacobs Field offered an event that players might have previously pondered but never tried. The concept of hitters drilling pitchers.

Different, but unfortunately for the Twins an act that might land outfielder Torii Hunter in the cross hairs of league disciplinarian Bob Watson.

In a moment of anger after being hit by Cleveland’s Danys Baez in the fifth inning, Hunter took the ball and fired it back at Baez. The ball glanced off Baez’s glove before striking him in the hip.

“As soon as I did it, I wanted to take it back,” Hunter said.

Baez began to approach Hunter, but Twins third base coach Al Newman stopped him as players left their dugouts and bullpens. Hunter was ejected and replaced by Bobby Kielty, and after a few moments play resumed.

Hunter has been hit in the rib-cage area two other times this season: on June 26 facing the Chicago White Sox’s Bob Howry, and on July 11 facing Texas’ Chan Ho Park.

“I thought he was just trying to give the ball back to him,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Baez (7-7) said it was unintentional. He walked into the Twins clubhouse later in the game to tell that to Hunter, who was caught off-guard by the visit.

“What are you doing in here?” Hunter said.

The two had a cordial chat before Baez left.

“That was a surprise,”Hunter said. “He was all innocent about it. I apologized to him, too.”

Said Baez: “I wasn’t trying hit him. I throw inside all the time. When he threw the ball at me, it was a surprise. He threw very hard.”

I was one of those who Torii Hunter started to wear towards the later years of his time in Minnesota, but this is back when he was still one of my favorites. At the time, I thought it was a novel way to get back at the pitcher, much more fair than, say, charging the mound with fists flying or throwing at the other team’s star player.

It wouldn’t be a true beanball war, however, without Gardy getting a little fired up:

Both benches were warned about further beanballs, which is old hat to the Twins, who have been warned at least six times this season.

That’s a touchy subject with Gardenhire, who played when justice was carried out on the field. If a batter dug in at the plate too much or homered in his previous at-bat, he’d get plunked and tip his cap. These days, players are more sensitive and umpires more aggressive in avoiding brawls.

“What they should do is stop the game, have the pitcher get a bat and go to the plate and have the hitter go to the mound and throw a pitch at him,” Gardenhire said.

Here’s the boxscore from the Twins’ 8-5 win that night.

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