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Gomez does it all, upstaging Hunter

Gomez does it all for Twins, before Hunter

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Standing beside the cage during batting practice Monday afternoon, Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez turned his head and caught a glimpse of Torii Hunter walking toward him.

Immediately, Gomez broke into a huge smile and greeted the man whom he is replacing with a handshake and a hug.

It was, in essence, a passing of the torch.

The Twins spent Monday watching their longtime center fielder play his first game in an Angels uniform while Gomez made his first start for Minnesota.

Most of the attention coming into the game was focused on Hunter's return, but the Opening Night contest ended up being all about Gomez.

The 22-year-old center fielder put on quite a show in his Twins debut, going 2-for-3 with a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored.

It was the kind of performance that the Twins saw glimpses of from Gomez during Spring Training, but not one that was expected in a setting like the one Monday -- with so much pomp and circumstance for the season opener.

"Like everyone else that has seen him play, I didn't know what to expect when he got out there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's an exciting player and he was really excited. We tried to tell him to relax as much as we possibly could, to slow the game down. And know what he had some good at-bats. He shortened up his swing, fouled some pitches off and even took some pitches.

"Honestly, I was pretty impressed."

It seemed that many other people walked away with the same feeling after watching Gomez show off a wide array of offensive talents during the Twins' 3-2 win over the Angels. He led off the game with a double down the third-base line, and even showed some restraint on the bases -- remaining at second rather than trying to stretch it to a triple.

The center fielder then reached base in his next at-bat on a less than perfectly executed bunt to Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman, which he beat out easily with a headfirst slide.

"He's going to bring joy to a lot of people around here, including us, by just watching him play," closer Joe Nathan said. "You're seeing bunts that aren't good bunts and he can beat them out. That's what's impressive. He could potentially break a record for bunts on this team."

Gomez's speed was on display with his two stolen bases. But he also showed that he can be patient. In the fifth, Gomez drew a five-pitch walk to lead off the inning. After recording his second stolen base of the game, he broke up a tie 2-2 game when he scored on a Michael Cuddyer single to left.

"It might be the last one," Gardenhire said of Gomez's walk. "But he drew one."

And Gomez's skills in the field weren't shabby either. The young center fielder made one tremendous catch in the fifth inning, running down a ball in deep right-center field. He didn't seem to have any trouble with the Metrodome roof on his first night there either -- something Hunter had warned him about.

After the game, Hunter had nothing but praise for his successor.

"Tell you what, Carlos Gomez is an athlete," Hunter said. "He's impressive. The guy's fast -- he stole two bases -- and he can close in the gaps. I really like him. He's a good looking player."

It was a similar sentiment to the one Hunter had when the two players first met last June. The Twins were playing the Mets at Shea Stadium and Hunter watched as Gomez ran down one of his balls down the left-field line. The next day, Hunter approached Gomez and told him how impressed he was with the young outfielder.

And when the two spoke to each other before the game Monday, Hunter had more words of encouragement for Gomez.

"He say to me, 'Hey kid, go get it. This is your position. You have to play every day here and show everybody what you got,' " Gomez said.

The ride of watching Gomez could be bumpy, but Hunter knows better than most about the struggles that young players can endure. He went through his fair share on his way up through the Twins system and he believes that the best thing for the Twins is to ride the waves with Gomez.

"Just let him play," Hunter said. "He's going to learn from experience. ... Just give him some time, give him some [at-bats] and don't try to take it away from him.

"Let him struggle, let him have fun and learn as much as he can. I think he'll be fine."

Gomez certainly looked like he would be just fine in his debut. Yet even he acknowledged afterward that his days likely won't always be that good.

Still at least for one day, everything seemed to go the young player's way.

"This is the perfect [day]," Gomez said. "I score two runs today and we win."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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