So, how long have we waited for last night?
Several years, at least. In 2006, when Jason Kubel kick-started the Twins hot streak with an extra-inning grand slam against the Red Sox, we hoped he was all the way back. But it was longer than that, because you don't start talking about "being all the way back" unless you are already waiting for a guy to return to form.
I suppose we could go back to the injury, which was way back in the fall of 2004 for chrissakes. That was so long ago that Luis Rivas was ending his tenure at second base. But you can even stretch it back a bit further that year, to when Kubel was beating the living snot out of pitchers in AA and AAA, posting a 1000+ OPS between the two leagues.
Since then we've watched him rehab physically for two years, and rehab mentally for another two. And it's been painful for us, too. We've watched a guy whose confidence was AWOL for most of last year, such that one could legitimately question whether he needed to revisit the minors.
But tonight the wait was worth...no, that's not right. One night doesn't make up for four years of purgatory. Purgatory sucks. It's a place short of heaven, but within sight of it. And you're weighed down with stones until you learn to humble your pride.
He should have regained some of that pride last night. He faced a pitcher who has dominated him (2 hits in 21 AB) in the past. He was playing in the biggest game of the season. And he batted behind the top of the order which collectively went just 2 for 17. And yet he carried the team to an important victory, turning a one-run deficit into a one-run lead and then padding it later. If he keeps that kind of performance up, we're all going to be walking around in gold-plated diapers.
Manager Ron Gardenhire defended Kubel's place in the lineup before the game, and wasn't above gloating a bit after the game about his decision. He pointed out that he had watched all 21 of those previous at-bats against Vazquez and that Kubel had several quality at-bats in that bunch. And then he pointed out that Kubel now sits with 20 home runs. Unsaid was that Kubel also has 78 RBI, which is just one short of Joe Mauer for second place on the team.
But Gardenhire will have a tougher decision tonight. Left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle will be facing the Twins, and while Kubel has improved versus lefties, he's still hitting just .234 against them with no power to speak of.
Well, OK, maybe it isn't such a tough decision. Kubel, after his night of glory, will likely spend some time on the bench tomorrow, hoping that the White Sox are eventually forced to bring in a right-handed reliever. Or maybe he'll just wait there until Thursday, when the Twins face right-handed John Danks. And he'll likely wait there patiently.
After all, he waited four years for last night. We all did. What's 48 more hours?
Let's throw down as many more thoughts as I can in fifteen minutes....
- Justin Morneau broke the record for most doubles in a season by a Twin passing...Marty Cordova? Seriously? Can someone explain to me how a guy with plantar fasciatis for his ENTIRE TWINS CAREER beat out Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Pucket and Chuck Knoblauch for doubles in a season? Those big casts/boots are heavy. And don't try to argue with me about the plantar fasciatis. I was there. He had it every game for his ENTIRE TWINS CAREER.
- If Gardy really wants to puff his chest a bit, he should point out that he chose Nick Punto, of all people, to bunt on a suicide squeeze. That might not sound strange until you remember that Punto, in the midst of his journey through Dante's seven circles last year, couldn't bunt to save his life. And now Gardenhire has him laying down a bunt with Delmon Young running full steam towards the plate? Talk about playing a hunch.
Of course, not only did Punto get the bunt down, but he may have placed the most perfect bunt of all time. I'm serious. Consider: not only did it get the run in, but he singled even though the middle infielders were playing in to try and cut down the run at the plate. How does that even happen?
- Let's not forget Delmon Young and his three hits. Early on he was driving the ball to the opposite field, and then he turned on one and drove it deep to the left field bleachers. He also made a couple of plays in left field, despite still being limited by his sprained ankle. He was also interviewed following the game and left two impressions:
1) he was absolutely tickled to be getting the attention and
2) he is not going to fall for the "banana in the tailpipe" trick.
He's hitting .293 now. He isn't the player that we hope he will be yet, but he's probably not the player he hopes he will be yet, either. But he looks like he is heating up at exactly the right time.
- Finally, as Scott Baker finished the seventh inning with 100 pitches, I wondered who would pitch out of the bullpen. I assumed it would not be Jesse Crain, Jose Reyes or Matt Guerrier, because Gardenhire would still view them as someone to save for a closer game. I guessed Bobby Korecky would get the call.
I was somewhat relieved to see that it was Crain and Guerrier that got the work, because I'm almost sure that this means that we'll see Jose Mijares in the next close eighth inning. And I'm encouraged by the results, too. Crain did well and hopefully regained some confidence. Guerrier gave up another very long home run and will hopefully come nowhere near a close game for a bit longer. He could use the rest. And, frankly, so could my artery walls.
That's it for tonight. Whatever each of you did to ensure a Twins victory, make sure you do it tonight too. I'll be dumping water on my head as I try to sell GameDay's prior to the game. At 1.5 games out and facing Buehrle, we can't be too careful.