Hunter's 7th-inning homer breaks slump, sends Angels off with a win

MINNEAPOLIS -- After four days of standing ovations, two pregame ceremonies to honor him and a week's worth of reminiscing, Torii Hunter is ready to go home.

For the first time in 10 years, home does not mean Minnesota. He's headed back to Los Angeles with the Angels after a draining opening series against his former team, but he made sure to leave Twins fans with a little something to remember him by.

In the final game of an emotional return to the Metrodome, Hunter homered leading off the seventh inning to back a strong start from Ervin Santana and help Los Angeles beat Minnesota 5-4 on Thursday.

"That's big, to kind of end it that way," said Hunter, who was honored with a pregame video on opening day and given his Gold Glove before Game 2. "I started to slow down the last two games. I didn't have any opening-day ceremonies or anything like that.

"It was more emotional, man, than anything. Just coming back, walking up the wrong way, going in the wrong clubhouse, running to center field from the wrong side. It was weird."

Prior to his drive, Hunter had gone just 2-for-14 to start the season and admitted to being gassed from the pageantry and warm welcomes he received from Twins fans who watched him star in center field for the previous nine years.

On getaway day, he had just enough left in him to muscle a mistake from Brian Bass into the seats in left-center field, and the small crowd at the Dome gave one last standing ovation to the fan favorite who signed a $90 million, five-year deal with the Angels in the offseason.

Mike Napoli and Gary Matthews Jr. also homered for Los Angeles. Hunter went 1-for-4 to finish the series 3-for-16.

"I am drained. I'm tired. Mentally tired," Hunter said. "I get to go home and relax, back at home in L.A. No pressure. No emotional [situations]. I'm good to go."

Francisco Rodriguez got Michael Cuddyer swinging with runners on first and second to end the game and pick up his second save. The Angels took three of four from the Twins to open the season and got an encouraging start from Santana, who gave up just two runs and four hits with three strikeouts in six innings.

Joe Mauer had two doubles and two RBIs for the Twins, who lost starter Kevin Slowey (0-1) in the fourth inning with a strained right biceps.

Slowey, the 2007 Twins minor league player of the year, gave up three runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said Slowey likely will skip his next start and be evaluated from there.

"It's nothing serious but certainly nothing that we want to mess around with," Slowey said. "I'll keep it in ice and follow the trainers the next couple days and see how it goes."

Jason Kubel homered in the seventh to cut the lead to 5-4, but that was it for Minnesota's struggling bats. Justin Morneau went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and is 0-for-13 this season.

It had to be a confidence builder for Santana (1-0), who is coming off a trying 2007 that featured him getting knocked out of his spot in the rotation. He also spent a month at Triple-A Salt Lake, and lost some momentum from a promising two-year start to his career.

After winning 24 games in his first two seasons, Santana went 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA last year.

Manager Mike Scioscia said Santana was "terrific" with his mechanics and his command.

"If he can bottle that, he's going to have a good year," Scioscia said.

Despite starting the season with their top two starters -- John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar -- on the disabled list, the Angels should feel great about their rotation as they leave Minnesota.

Jered Weaver, Jon Garland, Joe Saunders and Santana combined to go 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 28 1-3 innings at the Dome.

"We've got some good starting pitching," Hunter said. "Our pitching ain't slouching now."

Kubel's homer was the first of the year by the Twins. The last time it took them this long to hit one was in 1999. ... Speaking of holding on, Los Angeles' Maicer Izturis flung his bat into the first row of seats far down the first-base line after losing his grip in the third. Teammate Howie Kendrick also lost the handle in the fourth, and a fan made a nice one-handed grab of the bat about 10 rows up the third-base line.