The Teflon Torii Hunter

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I was reading Joel Sherman’s column today at the Post and I came across this bit:

Torii Hunter has only enhanced his reputation as a clubhouse gem and clutch player this year — his three-run, walk-off homer yesterday carried Detroit over Oakland.

Sherman mentions Hunter in furtherance of his months-old argument that the Yankees should have signed him this past offseason. Maybe they should have. He’s having a great season.  But I can’t get past that “clubhouse gem” line. Hunter is almost always described this way. As one of the best guys in the game. But you’ll notice that the people who describe him that way are all in the media.

There’s a good reason for this: Hunter is famously accommodating and pleasant with the media. He gives great interviews, is always available and eschews athlete cliches. And it’s more than just giving pithy quotes. He says funny and interesting stuff that is also illuminating. I can’t imagine a player I’d want on a team I was covering more than Hunter because he would make my job way easier.

But is he a “clubhouse gem?”  Just last week we heard about how he once had to be physically restrained from going after Albert Pujols. From the sound of it Pujols was more factually in the wrong about the underlying dispute, but Hunter took what should have been a verbal disagreement and turned it into a physical one. That same report alleges that while in Minnesota Hunter threw a punch at Justin Morneau. Add this to his comments revealing a teammate’s personal problems to the media, voicing his displeasure with the notion of having a gay teammate and calling Dominican ballplayers “impostors” who should not be counted as black when talking about the racial makeup of baseball teams.

None of which is to say that Hunter is a bad person. He’s got strong opinions and passion and even if you disagree with him on the merits he is honest about his convictions and beliefs. As for the dustups with Pujols and his Twins teammates, I’m sure that stuff happens more than we know in Major League clubhouses. Especially late in seasons when teams are struggling. And of course he is a fine ballplayer.  Hunter is probably like a lot of other major leaguers in all of these respects.

But I can’t think of any other major leaguer who has had these sorts of dustups who is so consistently called a great clubhouse guy, wonderful person, etc. The media usually kills guys who have had way fewer controversies about them than Hunter has had. Guys who have issues with teammates, who talk out of turn about them, who say controversial things about race and the like are usually treated like problems or head cases or high-maintenance guys. Not Hunter. He is not just immune to this, he is actually held above almost all other players in the deportment department by the media which covers him.

I suppose it’s crude of me to say that the reason for this is that he is incredibly pleasant and accommodating to the media and makes their job easier. That he gets a free pass on this stuff because he’s well-liked by the people who don’t give such free passes to others who do what he does. That this is merely the flipside of the stuff I mentioned about Yasiel Puig last week: that the more separate and apart or otherwise unaccessible a player is to the reporters who cover him the more likely he is to be given less charitable assessments. Hunter is the anti-Puig in this respect.

I like Hunter. I think he’s a great ballplayer and I don’t think considerably less of him than any other player simply because, for the most part, I don’t care what players say or do when they aren’t playing. But the folks who do make those sorts of judgments as a rule — the ones who decide who are great clubhouse guys and who aren’t — always seem to give him a free pass. And it’s fascinating to me.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.