Torii Hunter always knows when he’s in Boston’s glorious old ballpark. His left ankle lets him know.
“Every time I come here,” Hunter said before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, “my ankle hurts. It remembers this place.”
What his ankle recalls is a terrible accident in the triangle in right center on July 29, 2005. Pursuing a long drive by his former Twins teammate and good buddy David Ortiz, Hunter got his ankle caught in the wall. The ankle was fractured, causing him immense pain and costing him the final two months of the season.
“It was nasty, man, really bad,” Hunter said.
The ugly incident came to his mind on Monday night when the eight-time Rawlings Gold Glove center fielder lost his left shoe trying to stab a drive by the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira – it’s something about former teammates and friends – at Yankee Stadium.
After the game, Hunter jokingly referred to himself as “Shoeless Torii.” But he understood how fortunate he’d been to shed the cleat on impact.
“It’s a good thing the shoe stuck in the padding and came off,” Hunter said. “If it had stayed on, the way my foot hit the wall . . . I don’t even want to think about what might have happened.”
That painful incident remains clear in his head, but it hasn’t all been bad for Hunter in Beantown. He actually has hit extremely well in Fenway Park: .327 for his career with eight homers in 220 at-bats, .361 last season with three homers in 36 at-bats.
Hunter also delivered handsomely in his biggest at-bat of his first season with the Angels. It was his dramatic two-out, two-run single against Justin Masterson in the eighth inning that brought the Angels even in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero scored on Hunter’s bullet, his third hit in 10 at-bats at Fenway in the series.
The Red Sox rocked the Angels with a run in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 3-2 triumph that arranged an AL Championship Series showdown with the Rays.
The season over, Hunter found no solace in his own performance, batting .389 for the series to lift his career postseason average to .316 (along with a .510 slugging percentage) in 25 playoff games.
“I really thought we were going all the way,” he said that night, despair everywhere in the ancient clubhouse.
With renewed hope in the air, the Angels are back at Fenway. There’s a strong chance they’ll revisit the yard next month, once again as AL West champions facing the Wild Card Sox in Games 3 and 4, if necessary, of the ALDS.
Hunter, who has arrived as a rare six-tool player this season with his immensely popular blog on MLB.com, can’t wait for the big date, if it’s in the stars.
Here’s a guy who can hit for average, for power, run, field, throw – and write.
“Read all about it,” Hunter said, beaming.