Hunter has no explanation for miscue
MINNEAPOLIS -- Fortunately for most of us, when we make costly, embarrassing mistakes, they aren't shown on national television. Over and over and over again. In slow motion. With a broadcaster explaining in detail exactly how we screwed up.
Nor do we have to answer questions and explain our errors to reporters crowded around so thick it's as if it were the buffet line at Sizzler.
"Hank, if you had to do it all over again, would you still say those pants make your wife look fat?"
Nor do millions of people spend the entire winter whining how our blunder personally ruined their year.
"That @#&% Johnson. I would have gotten that promotion if he hadn't accidentally sent those bachelor party photos on an officewide e-mail. What a moron."
Baseball players, however, are not afforded such privacy. When they make mistakes, the world sees. Which brings us, of course, to Torii Hunter. He is the best center fielder in the American League, a winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves, fully deserving of a spot in the Web Gem Hall of Fame, and the Twins' leader.
But in Wednesday's Game 2 of Minnesota's AL Division Series with Oakland, he misplayed a fly ball about as badly as possible without having "Chico's Bail Bonds" on the back of his jersey.
With the score tied 2-2 in the seventh, two out and Oakland's Jason Kendall on first base, Mark Kotsay hit a sinking line drive to center field. Hunter got a good jump on the ball and felt so certain he could catch it that he dove for the ball rather than play things safe and keep it in front of him. The ball tailed away from him, though, and he didn't come close to getting his glove on it. The ball dropped to the turf in front of him for a hit and bounced all the way to the fence for an inside-the-park home run that put Oakland ahead 4-2 en route to its 5-2 victory.
"I can't even explain what happened on that play," Hunter said. "You have to be out there to understand. I had a bead on it and right when I was diving, the ball cut. All I've got to say is I have to take the blame for this. I shouldn't have dove for the ball. I'm an aggressive outfielder, but that shouldn't happen. I just made a mistake. I don't want to have any excuses. I just messed that one up."
Watching the ball bounce away while Kotsay raced around the bases must have been an awful feeling. Like the moment when you were drinking with your friends and suddenly realized you had forgotten to pick up your mother-in-law at the airport.
"I was just looking at [right fielder Michael] Cuddyer running after the ball, and it took him an hour to get there," Hunter said. "It was pretty tough. I knew [Kotsay] had a chance to get to third base and even score. I kept looking at Cuddy and the ball, Cuddy and the ball. It was pretty tough."
Don't worry. The feeling got worse.
"For three innings, you're sitting [in the dugout], saying, 'Man. What could have happened?' " Hunter said. "We were tied up and then something like that happened. You can't do anything about it. You just sit there and think, 'Man, I feel less than a man right now.' "
Hunter insisted he would have caught the ball had it not tailed away ("I wouldn't dive unless I knew I could catch it"), and everyone from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to Kotsay came to his defense.
"He's a Gold Glover, and when he goes after a baseball, I don't second-guess him," Gardenhire said.
"I would have done the same thing; he's an aggressive outfielder, and so am I," said Kotsay, who plays center for Oakland.
The misplay was somewhat similar to a shoestring catch Hunter attempted against Oakland in Game 3 of a 2002 division series. That ball, hit by Ray Durham, got under his glove and went to the wall for an inside-the-park home run, as well.
"The only two mistakes he's made in eight years, and he makes them against us," Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. "In fairness to Torii, that ball knuckled on him. We caught a break on the aerodynamics of the Metrodome."
That first inside-the-parker came in a 6-3 ho-hum Oakland win. This one was at a crucial moment just after the Twins had tied the score in the sixth with back-to-back homers by Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. But when the ball bounded past Hunter and Kotsay scored, it was as if someone poked a hole in the roof and let all the air out of the Metrodome. The Twins managed only a bloop single the rest of the way.
Although Hunter felt horrible about the play, his confidence wasn't damaged. He knows such things happen in baseball.
"I play center field, dawg, I'm still the best," he said. "You can believe that."
You can also believe Minnesota is now just one loss away from winter for far more reasons than Hunter's misplay. The Twins have long been known for solid fundamentals, but they have stumbled over themselves this series. They've been thrown out trying to steal, struggled to get bunts down, thrown wild pitches, bobbled grounders, and failed again and again in the clutch. They blew solid starts from likely Cy Young winner Johan Santana and Boof Bonser by going 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. And all that in the Metrodome, where they had the best home record in baseball.
"What we did was pretty amazing," Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez said. "If you come out of here 1-1, you would feel good about yourselves, especially facing Santana. But that toughest part of the hill is still ahead of us."
That's true. Oakland is 0-9 in possible clinching games the past seven years and hasn't won a postseason series since 1990.
"Really?" Hunter replied when told the stat. "That's a good one. There's hope."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com