Flat offense strands Twins in ALDS
Minnesota goes 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position
OAKLAND -- Center fielder Torii Hunter went around the Minnesota Twins clubhouse after Friday's game, stopping at every locker and hugging every teammate."There's no use in crying," Hunter said when he was done. "They out-played us. But this team isn't going anywhere. We'll be back. We have a batting champion (Joe Mauer), an MVP candidate (Justin Morneau) and a Cy Young candidate (Johan Santana). There is a lot of talent in here. This team is going to be back." The question is if Hunter will back with them after an 8-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. He wants to be back, but with a long-term contract extension and not just one more year, if the club exercises a $12 million contract. If that's all that happens, he would rather not come back at all. "I'd rather have no years than one year, 100 percent," said Hunter, who has been a regular for the Twins since 1999 and will become a free agent if the Twins decide to exercise a $2 million buyout. "It's all up to the Twins," Hunter said. "One year doesn't mean anything. I've been around a long time; I want to end my career here. But that's not the way the game is played." Hunter would prefer a multi-year extension that would at least allow him to be with the Twins through 2010. "I just don't want to go through the one-year thing and be a distraction to the team, go through all the trade rumors if we don't get off good," Hunter said. "I don't want to be here just for one year and be a distraction. I want to be here longer. "Am I begging?" Who knows? But this is obviously not how Hunter wanted to leave the Twins and on Friday afternoon, he once again found himself in the middle of the most controversial play of the game. The Twins trailed, 4-2, when Morneau singled and Hunter doubled with one out in the sixth, putting runners on second and third. Rondell White followed with a single to right to score Morneau. Third-base coach Scott Ullger, perhaps realizing that was the Twins' first hit with runners in scoring position in the series, also sent Hunter. But Athletics right fielder Milton Bradley charged the ball hard and made a strong, accurate throw to catcher Jason Kendall.
Hunter tried to slide around the tag and thought he did just that. But home-plate umpire Mike Everitt ruled that Kendall made the tag before Hunter got the plate."I was safe," Hunter said. "That's my opinion. I can tell you I was safe, but the umpire said I was out, so I'm out. He did not tag me, 100 percent. I don't like crying at the umpires, but it's the playoffs. My intensity is up. That's why I went crazy. "But that's not why we lost." There were a number of reasons the Twins were swept, and their inability to hit with runners in scoring position has to be near the top of the list. Their lack of success in such situations reached near-historic proportions. "In a short series, you can't afford to miss chances like that," Morneau said. "We just didn't do it with runners in scoring position. We didn't play Twins baseball. This isn't what we set out to do. This isn't want we expected to do. It's tough not playing the way we have all year." All year, the Twins hit with men in scoring position. During the regular season, they batted .296 with runners in scoring position, the second-highest average in the league. But against the Athletics, they were just 1-for-19 after White's single on Sunday. "All year, we got those runs in," outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "We'd get a broken-bat single or a 15-hopper up the middle. We just didn't get them this time." The Twins' .053 batting average with runners in scoring position was the fourth-lowest in the history of the playoff series. The Los Angeles Dodgers were 0-for-22 in the 1966 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, the Texas Rangers were 0-for-14 in their 1999 Division Series and the Houston Astros were 0-for-12 in the 2001 Division Series. The Twins are tied with the 1990 Boston Red Sox, who were also 1-for-19 when they got swept by the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. That just happens to be the last time the Athletics won a playoff series, before Friday. "It just didn't happen for us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You look over at the other side, their pitching staff, they made a lot of good pitches. We obviously didn't swing the bats as well as we had during the course of the year. "You know what? We went through a lot to get here and I don't know whether the guys were worn down, they sure didn't feel like it. They felt good coming in." The good feeling didn't last long. The Twins face a long offseason and Mauer said, "I don't even know what I'm going to do tomorrow." Hunter doesn't either. He just knows he wants to be in Minnesota for a long time or not at all.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.