Interleague play began Friday, and the Twins faced the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers happen to be one of the hottest teams in all of baseball right now, with an impressive 26-16 record, second only to the Dodgers in winning percent. They’re keeping both the Cardinals and the Cubs out of first place in the NL Central.
In other words, the exuberant scoring in yesterday’s rout of the White Sox might be short lived.
They faced Manny Parra on Friday and kept up the barrage. The final score was 11-3, giving the Twins 31 runs in their last two games.
They couldn’t even wait. It started in the first with Mauer engineering a walk and Morneau a single. In Gardenhire’s new lineup—don’t change a thing!—Spans leads off and then we go straight to the M&M show.
Michael Cuddyer got the four spot Friday, though Jason Kubel would have occupied it were he not a late scratch with a knee problem.
Welcome to the cleanup spot, Michael Cuddyer. I have to be honest. I saw Cuddyer start the season in ho-hum fashion, and then watched happily as he seemed to find his stroke. It was a bit of a light switch being flipped, and I confess I doubted he could hold on to the solid hitter’s groove.
But as his eye traveled like a laser down his bat as he located a fat pitch from Parra, he extended his arms and laced the ball deep to left. It was such a sweet, clear swing—a perfect coil of power and grace. The three-run homer got the Metrodome fans rocking and the Twins off to an early lead.
To score 11 runs takes contributions from almost everybody, but the Twins still had a true player of the game. In four at-bats, Cuddyer hit for the cycle. He started with the homer, got a double in the third, and a single in the fourth. By then, he had four RBI, had scored two runs, and was 3-for-3.
In the sixth, Denard Span led off with a homer, Mauer struck out, and then Morneau singled. Cuddyer is up. Yes, it’s yet another time when a player is but a triple away from hitting for the cycle. In Cuddyer’s case, this looked like an especially academic possibility.
A few weeks ago, we saw Jason Kubel complete the feat, and he has a similar physique. By which I mean, a bit too thick and stout to make triples hitting anything but a statistical abnormality.
Brewers manager Ken Macha had seen enough from Cuddyer tonight, so he brings in a new relief pitcher Jorge Julio to try to quiet him down. And at first Julio looks like the man for the job. Two quick strikes. Then a ball. Then a classic Julio surprise, a wild pitch.
On his next delivery, Cuddyer splinters his bat as he deposits the ball in the luckiest little line over the third-base bag, barely fair, totally unfieldable. The ball rockets along the foul line all the way to the left-field corner.
Brewers are chasing it, no doubt, but Cuddyer is running his heart out. First. Second. And a gasping plunge into third—safe!
The cycle is an arbitrary expression of skill. There are more profound ways to affect the outcome of a game, and any night with four hits is arguably just as impressive. But the certain poetry of it is undeniable—all possible hits, hit!
This season threatens to cheapen the miracle. Kubel accomplished his during a week when two other players also bucked the odds. Now we have two Twins in one season. The last time two teammates had cycles was in 2003, when Vladimir Guerrero and Brad Wilkerson hit ‘em for the Montreal Expos.
Oddly, two Twins have also shared cycle honors in the same season: Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock did it in 1976.
I hope we haven’t seen a real end to the exotic rarity of the cycle, because I still want to stand up and cheer when it happens. Tonight Cuddyer went 4-for-5 with a career-high five RBI. This was also his third consecutive game with a homer.
Cuddyer gives the Twins a great arm in right field. I have had some doubts as to his significance at the plate, but I’m ready to let this year’s performance change my mind. After his slow start, Cuddyer is still hitting only .275, with a .364 OBP. That puts him around the league average.
Cuddyer had his best year in 2006, playing in 150 games and getting his average to .284 and OBP to .362. He had a big power surge that year too, hitting 24 homers to notch .504 in SLG. His OPS was .867. All these numbers were above average, and the Twins have been waiting for that player to come back.
In 2007 the drop-off was most acute in the power department. He hit only 16 homers, and the RBI dropped from 109 to 81. Just as telling, his doubles were down by a third, just like the homers. Last season, he had a thumb injury that cut his playing time in half. It was a rickety year all around, and he managed only a .249 average.
In the last three weeks, Cuddyer has shown the great swing of his past peak, and I believe he may be combining it with greater plate discipline and insight into opposing pitchers. We may be seeing a real blossoming, not just a temporary spike.
He is still only on pace to match that 24 home run high, but more importantly he appears to be the strong right-handed bat the Twins need to keep the lineup a minefield for opposing pitchers.
Cuddyer is 34, so a career year is unlikely. But a solid, consistent contribution to the team is all we are asking for, and it appears we’re going to get our wish.