LAKELAND, Fla. — Jim Leyland said the play Torii Hunter made Saturday reminded him of the 2002 All-Star Game, when he famously robbed Barry Bonds of a home run and unknowingly helped change how home-field advantage in the World Series was decided.
Nearly 11 years later, the catch Hunter made Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium wasn't quite so momentous; After all, it happened in a Grapefruit League game that won't decide anything. It wasn't even on TV. But it happened and 10,000-plus people can attest that Hunter still has big-time hops, even at age 37.
Hunter ran down Kevin Youkilis' deep drive to right in the third inning, leaping and reaching over the top of the nine-foot fence to take away what would have been a two-run homer. The defensive gem was the top highlight of the Detroit Tigers 10-6 victory against the New York Yankees, and it was vintage Torii Hunter.
"It felt like me when I was 25," Hunter said.
That's just the kind of thing the Detroit Tigers like to hear from Hunter, who was signed in the offseason to a two-year, $26 million deal. He also had three hits against the Yankees.
Hunter reportedly has stolen more than 30 home runs during the regular season during his career, so this one doesn't count like those. And yet, at his age, they all count.
"I did it just to remind you guys," Hunter said. "I know what I can do. And that's what I do. It's fun, man, it's the best thing ever. You talk about hitting a home run — you do that every once in a while, and it feels good — but there's nothing like robbing a home run. Some guys can go a whole lifetime's career and not ever do it."
Hunter says he knows what it feels like to lose a home run, recalling that Mike Cameron (twice) and Franklin Gutierrez have robbed him.
"It's not a good feeling," Hunter said. "That's why I like to do it. I'm like, 'Yeah, I know what he's feeling!' I've felt it before."
Hunter then pretended to stick himself with a knife repeatedly. It's better to be the one doing the stealing.
"Any time," Hunter said. "I don't care how many times you do it, it's the best feeling in the world."
From his spot by the Tigers dugout, Leyland said he thought Youkilis' ball wasn't coming back.
"From the conditions, I thought the wind was going to blow it out," Leyland said. "Under today's conditions, the ball was flying. But I've seen that before. I saw him rob one of my former players of a home run in the All-Star Game. He took one away from Bonds."
That game ended in a tie, causing commissioner Bud Selig to shrug and come up with the "This time it counts" All-Star Game meme.
The catch at Milwaukee's Miller Park also happened when Hunter still played center field, of course. Hunter has moved to right in recent seasons as he has aged and lost some range. The Los Angeles Angels also had speedier Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos to play center. Hunter might not be as fast as some, or as he used to be, but he can still jump. And that's just what he told Trout on Twitter:
— Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) March 24, 2013
When shopping during free agency, Hunter said he took into account the height of the right-field fence at Comerica Park, and that he's able to extend his glove over the top of it. Hunter said the taller fence in right field at Angels Stadium "kind of took me away" from being able to steal home runs in recent seasons.
"When you're a free agent, you're looking at everything," Hunter said.
Hunter says he usually can tell he's going to steal a home run an instant before it happens.
"Right when it's getting close to the wall, you're like, 'Yep, I got it.' It's just that feeling you have," Hunter said. "And if you miss it — that's why you see guys hit their glove because they're upset, they throw a tantrum out there because they know they should've had it. It's a timing mechanism."
And the Tigers can count on Hunter still having great timing.
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