© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not often that a player hitting for the cycle is the second greatest thing that happens in a game. But for the Twins, it was not the fact that Jason Kubel completed his cycle by hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning that was important.
It was that the grand slam capped a seven-run rally in the inning for the club, giving it an improbable 11-9 comeback victory over the Angels on Friday night at the Metrodome.
"Wow, what a roller-coaster out there," manager Ron Gardenhire said as he tried to catch his breath. "That was a great comeback."
A roller-coaster might be the only way to describe Friday's contest Minnesota.
The Twins entered the bottom of the eighth trailing the Angels, 9-4. Having been deflated by blowout losses in three of the previous four nights to the Blue Jays, Minnesota looked to be headed toward more disappointment and another lopsided loss.
Enter Kubel, who had been one of the heroes for the Twins all night.
Kubel, who spends the majority of his time in the DH slot for the Twins, got the start in left field as Gardenhire tried to mix up his lineup.
The change in position didn't seem to make a difference to Kubel. He drove in the club's first run in the first inning with an RBI double. He put the tying run in scoring position in the sixth with a triple to right field.
Then in the most critical situation of all, Kubel stood at the plate in the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded and delivered perhaps one of the greatest swings of his life.
On an 0-1 pitch from Angels reliever Jason Bulger, Kubel blasted a high, towering shot into the upper deck of right-center field for his fifth career grand slam -- to complete not only the cycle but also the stunning victory.
As he crossed home plate, Kubel was mobbed by teammates Nick Punto, Denard Span and Morneau -- who had all scored in front of him. And for the player who tries to shy away from the spotlight, there he was grinning from ear to ear in his shining moment as the crowd of 24,168 fans at the Metrodome gave him a raucous standing ovation.
"He honestly said, 'I can't believe that just happened,'" Gardenhire said of Kubel's reaction when he got back to the dugout.
Kubel wasn't the only one left stunned by the Twins tremendous comeback. It was just an inning earlier that Minnesota had watched a tie game disappear as the Angels scored five runs to take an 8-3 lead.
It seemed like a repeat of the previous night, when a tight game quickly turned into a blowout victory for their opponents in the seventh inning. And this near-debacle was even more surprising as four of the five runs in the inning were charged to reliever Jesse Crain, who had been one of the Twins' most reliable relievers this season after he'd allowed just one run in his previous 5 2/3 innings.
But Minnesota wasn't the only club in this contest to have seen bullpen woes this season. The Angels have seen their share too, with the relief corps entering the game with a combined 6.93 ERA. So when the Twins saw a glimmer of hope at the start of the eighth with Michael Cuddyer's leadoff infield single to short, they jumped at the chance to make more of it.
Cuddyer followed up his hit by stealing second and advancing to third on a wild pitch by right-hander Jose Arredondo. Brian Buscher struck out for the first out of the inning before Joe Crede walked. Scot Shields entered the game and gave up an RBI single to right by Mike Redmond.
The rally continued when Punto walked to load the bases. Span lined a two-run double into center field to pull the Twins within two, 9-7.
"I'm not going to say I felt like we were going to come back once I made that hit, but I just knew it just kind of sparked us a bit," Span said. "Everybody was getting up on their feet. We had been playing a little flat in the middle part of the game. I just wanted to do something to help us win."
After Bulger struck out Brendan Harris looking for the second out of the inning, Morneau came to the plate.
With Joe Mauer out for the start of the year, Gardenhire was worried about protection for Morneau. He knew that pitchers might try to pitch around the 2006 AL MVP, so he decided that Kubel would hit behind him for those situations.
As expected with first base open, Bulger decided to walk Morneau intentionally to once again load the bases, and so Kubel was left to see if he could complete the damage he had started. He took a curveball for strike one and then waited for the next pitch -- one that jumped off his bat on a swing that looked to be completely free and easy.
"That was probably one of my easier ones of the night," Kubel said. "My triple earlier, I took kind of a hard swing and really pulled it. I wasn't trying to do that. I was just trying to stay through this one and make it count."
Kubel did make it count, becoming the first player to finish a cycle with a grand slam since Miguel Tejada did it with the A's on Sept. 29, 2001, vs. Seattle and the third Major Leaguer to hit a cycle this week, which also happened last season. But more importantly for him and his teammates, it meant another "W" for the ballclub.
This was the Twins' fourth come-from-behind win this season, so comeback wins are nothing new to the club. But there was no question that this one was something a little extra special considering how they completed it.
"I think it just shows the character of this team," Span said. "We are going to play hard. We are going to keep battling even when things aren't going good."
"It's been a rough couple days," Kubel added. "Tonight was a huge pick-me-up and hopefully we can keep going with that tomorrow."