What a difference an inning makes.
In the top of the 8th inning, the Twins were staring straight in the face of another bad home loss and a 4-8 start to 2009. The Twins had led for much of the early part of the game. The Twins jumped out right off the bat in the first when Morneau, a paragon of hustle this year, scored from first (a new trick in his bag) on a Jason Kubel double. It wouldn’t be the Kubel’s last time for heroics on the night. Brendon Harris added a home run in the third to push the lead to 2-0. Later in the inning, Cuddyer almost got an RBI double, but Kubel, who’d singled on the previous at bat, was gunned down at the plate by right fielder Bobby Abreu.
The Angels finally struck back with four straight singles in the fifth and took a 3-2 lead. But the Twins fought back to tie the game in the sixth when Joe Crede knocked in Jason Kubel, who’d tripled to right earlier in the inning (starting to see the trend?).
Nick Blackburn had pitched serviceably, though not great, getting through one out in the top of the seventh before being lifted for his relievers. Unfortunately, Blackburn’s bullpen was as bad as Fransisco Liriano’s bullpen last night and blew the game open in the seventh. Blackburn left Chone Figgans on third for Jesse Crain, who scored followed by four more Angels. With a commanding 8-3 lead, it looked like the bullpen had sealed another big loss for the Twins. The Twins made a push in the seventh, but a great defensive play in center by Torii Hunter kept the inning from getting big and the twins went into the 9th down 8-4. A Matt Guerrier wild pitch and a Torii Hunter sac fly got the Angels that run right back in the top of the 8th.
But the Twins came alive in the bottom half. Cuddyer singled, Crede walked, Redmond singled, Punto walked, and Span doubled against a depleated Angels bullpen. Angels manager Mike Scioscia had pulled his starter in the 4th, and was running out of bullpen options. So with two men on, two outs, and lefties Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel coming to the plate, Socia had a decision to make. He could leave in young reliever Jason Bulger, or go to tough lefty closer Brian Fuentes. In a move that will likely leave Angels fans angry for some time, Socia decided to stick with the book, avoid bringing in his closer before the ninth inning, and stick with the righty.
Bulger would walk Justion Morneau intentionally to load the bases for Jason Kubel, who needed only a home run to complete the cycle. On the second pitch of the at bat, Kubel provided by far the most dramatic moment of the season to this point.
Kubel’s grand slam sent the home crowd, which booed a few innings earlier, into an uproar. Joe Nathan came in and pitched a Nathan-esque 1-2-3 ninth to seal the exciting 11-9 win.
It’s just one game, and it’s so early in the year, but today might have been just what the doctor ordered for the stumbling Twins. If the Twins needed a spark to light a fire under the team, Jason Kubel stepped up and provided it today.
Note: Check out the story below as Jon Marthaler put together a cool writeup of facts about Twins cycles.