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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Torii adds 'clutch-ness' to his 'veteran-ness,' 'experience-ness' and 'age-ness'

DETROIT — In his illustrious career, Torii Hunter has gotten hits off 745 pitchers.

Of his 2,132 hits, coming in to Thursday, 225 of them have put his team in the lead.

He’s come through in the clutch, too, with 594 hits coming in the seventh inning, or later.

But none of those were exactly like the one that he managed to grind out off Twins starter Carlos Correia Wednesday night, working the count, then doubling to the right-center gap to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1.

“Oh, man, Correia was pitching, he was throwing the ball pretty well. He had the cutter, the sinker, everything working and we just couldn’t get anything going. The last inning right there, I just said, get something up and something I can handle and put a good swing on it and I was able to get a pitch I could handle and I got a good swing on it,” Hunter said. “So pumped up, so pumped up.”

According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in Hunter’s 17-year career he’d had a two-strike, two-out go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later.

“He’s tough, and I’ve gone on record saying he’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever managed. In big situations, he gets tougher. Doesn’t always mean he’s going to be successful, but he knows how to grind out a tough at-bat against a good pitcher, and I think that’s one of his biggest assets, and that’s probably why he’s been so successful for a long time,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, noting Hunter just barely got a piece of the 2-2 pitch.

“That was just nasty, and he got a piece of it, barely. He hung in there.”

Hunter fouled off the first two pitches he saw (91 mph fastball, 88 mph slider), then took a close pitch (93 mph fastball) for Ball One. He’d foul off the 2-1 pitch (another fastball), then take a slider, foul off a 90 mph cutter, then finally put Correia’s seventh pitch into play.

“Upset that I fell for the banana in the tailpipe, the little cutter he was trying to get me to chase. But I was able to foul it off. I was like, ‘All right, T,’ I just talked to myself, pumping myself up to get that adrenaline going and I was able to get something going myself,” said Hunter, who was pumping his fists after cruising in to second base.

“I can’t explain to people that don’t really play this game. Anything you play, you play a video game, bowling or anything like that and you go ahead of the guy you’re competing against, you’re gonna be like, ‘Yeah. baby!’ Your adrenaline and your passion’s going to take over. That’s all it was. Nothing special. We went up 2-1, that’s something special. You gotta taunt a little bit.”

The Twins had no problem tipping their hat to their former player.

“Man, I’m glad I never had to face Torii in his prime,” Correia said. “He hasn’t lost much, that’s for sure. That was a great at-bat.”

Told of Correia’s back-handed compliment, the 38-year-old Hunter — who had jokingly said he scored from first “like I’m 26” earlier in the evening — could only laugh, and show mock outrage.

“Did he really say that? Really? Man, that’s tough. I guess I have to take that as a compliment. Go tell him that he’s a great pitcher and not to worry, I’m a better hitter now than in ‘my prime, Back then, I just tried to hit everything deep,” Hunter said. “Now I use my veteran-ness and my experience-ness and my age-ness to do a better job of hitting smarter.”


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