03/31/08 11:57 PM ET
Hunter warmly welcomed in Minnesota
Angels center fielder goes hitless, but hears cheers all night
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
If his heart was with his old friends, his mind was focused on helping his new buddies win a game.
It didn't happen for Hunter and his Angels, victimized 3-2 by the Twins in the season opener, but there was no shortage of desire or effort.
"I'm glad it's over," Hunter said afterward, sighing at his locker. "We were so amped up. I'm glad we got it out of the way."
Hunter flied to shallow right first time up in the second inning. He lined into a double play to second baseman Brendan Harris in the fourth. In the sixth, his replacement in center, Carlos Gomez, chased down his drive near the warning track in right-center. These three at-bats came against Livan Hernandez, the soft-serving right-hander.
"You see a guy who throws 85 [mph] tops. He's a smart pitcher, in and out," Hunter said of the veteran right-hander from Cuba. "You're going to hit him, but it's hard to hit him hard.
The Angels are "a fastball-hitting team, I can tell. First game, guys are a little amped up -- I know I was, and I've been playing a long time. He's not an easy guy to face in a situation like that. I hit the ball good today -- the line drive, the ball to center. But they didn't fall for us."
Fully amped in his final at-bat, Hunter went for broke against closer Joe Nathan, swinging through a high slider for strike three for the second out in the ninth. It was over a few moments later, the Twins savoring a season-opening victory.
"I've never faced Joe before," Hunter said, grinning. "His pitch was so nasty, I don't know if he threw me a strike at all. That's how amped up I was.
"I was trying to hit a home run to tie the game, maybe a double. The last pitch was a slider that didn't break. You swing under the ball, thinking it's going to break, and it doesn't. I don't know if he was trying to do that, but it worked."
Manager Mike Scioscia saw how much this night meant to Hunter, the reception, the emotion, and, finally, the frustration.
"Obviously, it was a well-deserved ovation," Scioscia said of the greeting from the crowd during introductions and again during Hunter's first plate appearance. "We felt good about it. Obviously, the fans appreciate what Torii did here.
"I think Torii was looking forward to it. He was a little disappointed. Hopefully, he'll get in a groove now, just relax and play baseball."
It was a night Hunter won't forget.
"That was awesome," he said of the fans, the lovefest. "I wish I could explain the feeling of coming back after all these years. I felt like everything was reversed, backward."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.