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Hunter given time off

Twins beat Detroit, hope to continue winning ways

By Brian Murphy

Knight Ridder Newspapers

DETROIT--There are worse points in the schedule for the Twins to lose their all-star center fielder for a few games because of a momentary lapse in tact.

Their only trip to Yankee Stadium for starters. Or that swing through Seattle and Oakland earlier this month. Even lowly Tampa Bay looks enticing with its cozy air-conditioned dome.

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But it is a safe bet that this weekend's series in the Motor City against the perpetually backpedaling Tigers would be at the bottom of the list.

Not that Torii Hunter was celebrating his three-game suspension for returning Danys Baez's pitch in Cleveland this week. But if there ever was a time for him to rest easy out of the lineup, it is now, with the Twins enjoying a double-digit division lead in the middle of a three-game series against one of baseball's worst teams.

The Twins flashed a little speed and flexed a lot of muscle Friday night, using three solo home runs to defeat the Tigers, 5-1, in front of 23,611 at Comerica Park.

The victory was the Twins' third in a row and seventh in nine games since the all-star break. It increased their American League Central Division lead over the stumbling Chicago White Sox to a franchise-high 12 games.

But they face the task of taking the field without their most valuable player candidate for a while.

"It's never fun to go without a Gold Glove guy out there and one of our leading RBI guys, but we have to play. We can't whine about it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It gives some other people a chance to get into the lineup and get some swings in. We've tried to pick each other up all year, and this is one of those situations."

Hunter decided not to challenge the penalty and will start serving the suspension, imposed by baseball vice president Bob Watson, on Saturday.

"We figured, lets get it out of the way right now," Gardenhire said. "This will be Torii's All-Star break."

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Angry that he was hit by a pitch in the fifth inning of Minnesota's 8-5 win Wednesday, Hunter pushed past third-base coach Al Newman and catcher Einar Diaz to get to the ball. The All-Star then fired it directly at Baez. The ball deflected off his glove and hit Baez on a leg.

Hunter was ejected by plate umpire Ted Barrett. Both benches and bullpens emptied and the umpiring crew met with both managers before play resumed.

In the second inning, Baez had hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch.

Baez went to the Minnesota clubhouse after the game, and the two talked over their differences.

In Cleveland, Hunter said he apologized to Baez in person, then again on the phone and also said he hoped Cleveland fans knew he was sorry.

After batting practice Friday at Comerica Park, he refused to discuss the situation.

Major league baseball, Page 5D

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