Kubel's kick start
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ozzie Guillen was right when he called Javier Vazquez a lousy big-game pitcher. He was wrong when he said the key to the biggest series of the season would be to "make sure you grab a big net and get those piranhas and put some poi...
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ozzie Guillen was right when he called Javier Vazquez a lousy big-game pitcher. He was wrong when he said the key to the biggest series of the season would be to "make sure you grab a big net and get those piranhas and put some poison in the water to make their teeth fall out."
It wasn't the "Piranhas" -- the Minnesota Twins' scrappy singles hitters -- who tormented the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday as much as it was the Twins' resident pufferfish.
Jason Kubel -- an average-looking station-to-station hitter on a team that prizes sleek athletes -- hit two home runs and a triple and accounted for the Twins' first three runs on Tuesday.
In the first of three games the Twins know they have to win, they fell behind 1-0 to the White Sox in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the inning, Vazquez quickly walkedJustin Morneau, as if Vazquez couldn't wait to pitch to Kubel. Kubel mashed a meaty pitch off the vampire seats, the Twins led 2-1, and any worries about the Twins playing nervous vanished.
Kubel started the fourth with a triple, scored on Delmon Young's bloop, and the Twins seemed on their way to cutting their AL Central deficit to 1½ games.
Kubel has got to be the most average-looking player in the Twins' clubhouse. Quiet and unassuming, it's easy to forget that Kubel was once a hitting prospect on par with Morneau and Joe Mauer.
In 2004, Kubel hit .377 at Class AA, .343 at Class AAA and .300 after being called to the majors in September. In a series at whatever they call new Comiskey Park in Chicago that September, Kubel hit his first two big-league home runs, causing Guillen to approach Kubel behind the batting cage, begging for mercy.
That October, Kubel tore up his knee playing in the Arizona Fall League. He missed all of 2005 and managed just 340 at-bats between Class AAA and the big leagues in 2006.
Last year, Kubel hit .273 with 13 homers and 65 RBI in 418 at-bats. This year, he settled in as the Twins' most frequent designated hitter, and he's second on the team with 20 homers and third with 78 RBI, one behind Mauer.
With Michael Cuddyer injured and Young settling for soft singles to right, Kubel's run production has proved vital. Tuesday, his timing was impeccable.
After the homer and triple, Kubel moved Mauer to third with a grounder in the fifth, and homered in the seventh.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire could have justified taking Kubel out of the lineup. Before Tuesday, Kubel was 2-for-21 with eight strikeouts against Vazquez. Cuddyer has pushed for playing time since recovering from his broken foot, and Cuddyer is 12-for-35 with two homers and six RBI against Vazquez.
"Kubel has been my DH all year," Gardenhire said before the game. "He's in there."
Kubel isn't tall, or heavily muscled, or fast, or particularly good in the outfield. The combination of his recovery time from his injury and his unassertive nature raised questions about his competitive fire within the organization.
It turns out Guillen was right twice: In 2004, when he identified Kubel as a hitter to watch, and in 2008, when he identified Vazquez as a pitcher who could be had in a big game.
And it was Kubel who got to him first.
Jim Souhan is a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.