Battle between Hunter and Sale set tone for finale
By Greg Garno
CHICAGO -- Torii Hunter is in his 19th season in the Majors, he's seen his share of tough pitchers and he knows what happens when you try for a big swing against Chris Sale. So he set an example for his teammates in his first chance against the left-hander on Sunday.
Hunter connected for a three-run home run -- No. 350 of his career -- after a 10-pitch at-bat against Sale to cap a four-run first inning. His teammates followed, as the Twins tallied 15 hits in a 7-0 victory over the White Sox.
Hunter fouled off the first five pitches he saw from Sale, hoping to get a fastball at some point. Sale, though, continued to utilize his slider to try to get Hunter to miss. But the difference for Hunter came because he kept his swing short, and eventually he got his fastball on the 10th pitch.
Hunter insisted he was not trying to hit a home run on Sale's pitches. Instead, he hoped to drop a base hit and drive in one of the runners on second and third.
"I was battling, trying to make something happen," Hunter said. "When you face a guy like Sale, you know you have to come with your 'A' game. You can't with that 'B' game, because that doesn't work. He's an 'A' pitcher."
"It seems like [Hunter is] getting younger," said Sale. "That's why he is who he is. You know, it's tough. He's a tough at-bat. He's still a great outfielder. He's not an easy out by any means. You just have to bear down there, and I can't leave a fastball there for him."
In his sixth outing against Minnesota, Sale allowed six runs over three innings -- including two more in the third inning. The outing left the White Sox ace with a 7.36 ERA and 1-4 record against Minnesota this season.
His best effort came in his first start of the season against the Twins, when he surrendered only one run. Since then, he's allowed Minnesota to strike for 26 earned runs. The Twins have accounted for 39 percent of Sale's runs this season and 28 percent of his hits.
"I don't have anything to explain why our guys -- I don't want to say are comfortable, but feel like they have a chance [against Sale]," said Minnesota manager Paul Molitor. "He changes time to time. Sometimes he'll try to overpower you, sometimes he'll try to finesse you. But it seems like we got a pretty good read on his pitches."
Added Hunter: "I don't know how we hit Sale. I have no idea at all. Sale is probably the best lefty in the game, for me, the toughest lefty in the game, for me, and one of the toughest pitchers. For us to get runs off of him the last three starts, it's a testament to how this team doesn't give up. They fight."
Last season, Sale posted a 2.45 ERA against the Twins, while they hit .223 against him. But, in an otherwise successful season, Minnesota figured him out.
"Just figure it out and try to fight my way through it," Sale said. "And luckily we are not facing them anymore this year."
Greg Garno is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.