With the Twins winning their final game of the season last night, it could be the end of an era on a few different fronts. The biggest two endings could be John Gordon no longer calling Twins games over the radio, as he's done since the 80s, and the potential departure of Michael Cuddyer. As far as the latter is concerned, I'm not sure the Twins are ready for it.
Cuddyer is Minnesota's final link back to those first competetive teams of the 2000s. He received a September cup of coffee in 2001 before receiving callup time in '02, and in '03 he actually broke camp with the team before being temporarily displaced by Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr. From there playing time became more regular, and since 2006 he has been one of this team's most popular (if polarizing, in some communities) players.
Now the Twins find themselves at a crossroads. This will be this franchise's most important off-season, quite potentially, in my 30 years of life.
But that's the big picture. This morning I want to go just a little bit smaller.
At Target Field last night, before a crowd of more than 36,000 fans, Carl Pavano stood larger than life and delivered the amazing performance the club needed him to. With the mustache, I might add. Cuddyer, batting third, had gone 0-for-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning.
On a 1-1 count from Bruce Chen, Cuddyer chopped a ball between third and short, splitting the gap and picking up a base hit. The crowd responded appropriately, with strong applause.
Cuddyer would hustle around to third base with two outs, thanks to another hit from French Resistance Fighter Rene Tosoni, sliding into third and popping up with dirt down his leg; he never acted, or never let it show, that this could be his final hit and trip around the bases for the Twins. Luke Hughes would fly out weakly to center field to end the inning and strand Cuddyer on third, but that doesn't matter to me quite as much as the circumstances.
Here's what matters to me: for a guy who has spent parts of 11 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, who has been with the team since being drafted in 1997, who has been this team's one visible leader for at least the last two or three seasons, why keep him in the game?
When Cuddyer reached first base with that hit, he should have been pulled. This could be his final game with the franchise. While pulling him may have made it appear as though Gardy (or the Twins) would be more or less admitting that Cuddyer was on his way out, and while the game was still very much in doubt, it was an opportunity for something a little bit bigger than winning game 63. Pulling Cuddyer for a pinch runner in that situation would have allowed the fans of Target Field to let him know exactly how much they've appreciated him over the year.
For a guy like Cuddyer, for all that he's meant to this team and for as long as he's been here, pulling him in the eighth and granting him a standing ovation would have been a grand gesture. Allow him to walk off the field for that singular moment as the focus of the stadium's attention. If this is goodbye, it would have been an appropriate one.
At least, that's how I feel personally.
We know that Cuddyer wouldn't have wanted to be pulled. And knowing what we do about him, knowing he's a little bit old school in some ways, maybe leaving him in the game was the more appropriate game. Maybe just allowing him to play the game as though it wasn't potentially his last in a Twins uniform was the proper tribute.
Whatever the case, last night may have been the final time we see Cuddyer in a Twins uniform. We know the Rockies have a place for him. Boston and Atlanta have been mentioned as possible landing places as well.
All that will be shaken out in the coming weeks and months, but in the mean time, and just in case: thank you, Michael Cuddyer. It's been a pleasure.