Most of the complaints lodged at Torii Hunter this year have involved his bad offensive output so far and his inability to hit in clutch situations. This is true, but of course, Hunter has always been a slow starter and in his career, he's never been a great hitter so you can't expect him to hit .300 anytime soon unless he's moved. The real disappointment has been in his defense and in his leadership. Tonight is a great example of this. In the 7th inning, while the Twins were carrying a 4-1 against the Indians, Hunter made a nearly-fatal mistake. When a ball was hit in between Hunter and Shannon Stewart, Hunter failed to communicate with his fellow outfielder and did not take the initiative in fielding the ball, instead letting it drop between them and thus, giving away valuable runs. His excuse? "The ball was tailing away from me," Hunter said. "So I looked at him and was like, 'What are you doing?' I had no chance at it." That's not enough, since clearly Hunter wishes to shift the blame. It is an example amongst many others that shows just how sub-par Hunter's defense has been this year. He seriously needs to work on it since the only reason Hunter's a $8 million player is his stellar defensive play. Hunter later badly played a ball in right-center, letting a line drive fall out his glove on a diving play he normally would have made. (On another note, Hunter blamed Ford for his bad play last night that may have cost the Twins a game, noting that if Stewart was playing, it would have been made. That's some questionable leadership as well)
But, let's get back to focus and look at the Twins victory in 11 innings tonight. Making up for Hunter's bad defense was Stewart, who made a stellar defensive play with an amazing throw, and also won the game with a homer off of David Riske in the 11th inning. Joe Nathan's 14th save sealed the victory, although it was another rocky outing for Nathan. The Twins bullpen, which has also been somewhat suspect lately, came through with five scoreless innings of work and Jesse Crain had his third extra-innings win in less than a week.
* Lew Ford went 2 for 5 after a bad showing last night, doing much better and continuing the hot bat he has shown all month
* Joe Mauer rested his groin and sat out for the second day while his backup Mike Redmond had a good day at the plate, going 2 for 3 and bringing his average to .306. Very good numbers for a backup
* Torii Hunter redeemed himself in one way, hitting a two-run double in the first inning, but he went 0 for 4 the rest of the night and his average now hoovers at .242. Pathetic.
* Matthew LeCroy was inserted into the cleanup spot where he went 0 for 4, leaving two men on base and showing his inability to hit left-handers better than righties
* After his 13-game hitting streak ended last night, Michael Cuddyer went 0 for 4 again, leaving two men in scoring position
So, despite winning the game and leaving Cleveland five games behind Chicago after their lost to the Angels, there are still many issues to be worked out, mainly the continuing hitting woes. We cannot expect our pitching staff to continue to be this good and we cannot expect clutch hits night in and out in extra-innings for wins. Playoff teams win with balance, not with a one-sided plan.