07/17/2002 10:02 pm ET
Hunter fights back versus Tribe
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- If there were any thoughts that a Twins-Indians rivalry would be less intense with Cleveland entering a rebuilding phase, they were soon debunked at Jacobs Field Wednesday night.
With one out in the fifth inning and Minnesota leading 4-2, Indians pitcher Danys Baez drilled a fastball into the ribs of Twins slugger Torii Hunter. The shot sent Hunter reeling to the ground in pain for several moments with manager Ron Gardenhire and a trainer rushing out of the dugout to check on him.
Before they could reach him, Hunter was up under his own power and took a couple of steps towards Baez. Third base coach Al Newman and home plate umpire Ted Barrett worked to restrain Hunter from doing something foolish like charging the mound.
But, Hunter resorted to another foolish reaction that has rarely, if ever, been seen at this level. He picked up the ball that Baez hit him with and whizzed it back at the pitcher, just grazing his glove.
"I just saw the ball and saw him," said Hunter, who has been hit in a similar place three times recently by other pitchers. "There was my chance. I'm telling you it was like nobody was around. I lost it."
Barrett immediately ejected Hunter as both benches promptly cleared. No further incidents happened and order was soon restored.
"It's amazing how he gets to hit me and when I throw the ball back, I get thrown out of the game," Hunter said. "I didn't charge the mound or do anything."
"He reacted," Gardenhire said. "He knew it wasn't the right thing to do right after he did it. But he was very upset when he did it because he got hit hard and it hurt. He knew he was wrong."
After Baez left the game in the sixth inning, he went over to the visitor's clubhouse and apologized to Hunter, who responded with an apology of his own.
"I just told him I lost it," Hunter said. "If I could go back, I wish I'd never have done it."
The umpire issued warnings to both benches to prevent any retaliation from either side the rest of the night. The rule has been a Gardenhire pet peeve all season and he continues to rail against it.
"The Minnesota Twins lead the league in warnings," said Gardenhire, who's dealt with this issue at least six times and been ejected twice. " I just don't understand. Baseball, when I was playing and all the way until recently, people took care of their business, then the umpires stepped in."
Gardenhire says that he understands the umpires are trying to protect players from getting hurt. But, there's still no accountability for a pitcher who plunks a hitter in the American League.
"That's why the National League is so different," Gardenhire said. "Because those guys with the ball in their hand have to go to the plate. This guy didn't have to go to the plate. He didn't have to do nothing."
With tongue firmly in cheek, the Twins' rookie manager had his own suggestion for a rule change.
"After it's already happened once in a game, if you see something like that, somebody needs to get pitched," he explained. "Or the guy gets hit (and) the game stops. The pitcher has to go to the plate and the guy that got hit gets to throw at him. Then we resume the game right after that."
Without their All-Star center fielder the rest of the way, the Twins outslugged the Indians by an 8-5 score. Dustan Mohr had three hits, including a two-run home run with David Ortiz and Luis Rivas also providing homers to make a winner out of right-hander Rick Reed.
While the game went on without him, Hunter sat in the clubhouse and saw the controversy unfold in television replays. His mood was much calmer when speaking with reporters after the game.
"I can't believe Newmie let me get that ball," Hunter joked. "He can't hold me back?"
This was Hunter's first ejection from a Major League game. He knows that the league is likely to issue him his first suspension somewhere down the road. He said he wouldn't even try pleading his case.
"They got me on tape," he said. "Why plead mercy? I'm going to get suspended anyway. I'm the bad guy. Hopefully we can compromise."
Hunter may have been the bad guy in this instance, but he is well known for being a charismatic and pleasant person by fellow players and fans. But, he's also a budding superstar who will likely see his fair share of brush back pitches from opponents along with an occasional plunking. He expects to use better judgment in the future.
"A lot of pitchers know they can aggravate me now," Hunter said. "I'll never do that again. I'll just go to first and try to control myself."
Mark Sheldon covers the Twins for MLB.com and can be reached at
This article was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.