Kubel's bat loses steam in tough ALDS
Slugger struggles after carrying Twins down stretch
MINNEAPOLIS -- The breakout 2009 campaign for Jason Kubel, during which he was as valuable as any player in the Twins' lineup for the final month of the season, ended quietly and without much fanfare on Sunday night at the Metrodome.
Kubel took a called third strike from New York closer Mariano Rivera with Michael Cuddyer on first and Minnesota trailing, 4-1, in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The pitch from Rivera looked as if it just caught the outside corner, but it was good enough for home-plate umpire Mark Wegner.
All the Twins right fielder could muster, at that point, was a look back at Wegner, a shake of his head and a slow walk back to the home dugout. None of the breaks went Kubel's way in a 1-for-14 showing with nine strikeouts as part Minnesota's series loss.
"It just happens," said a red-eyed Kubel, as hugs and handshakes were being exchanged in the clubhouse after the last game at the Metrodome.
Truth be told, the Twins wouldn't have won the AL Central and been facing the Yankees without Kubel's effort. His final statistics show the first .300 average of his career, not to mention his career-high 103 RBIs.
But more importantly, with key cogs such as Justin Morneau and Joe Crede out of the lineup down the stretch, Kubel saved his best for last. He hit six home runs with 26 RBIs over September and October combined, adding a .350 average over 20 October at-bats.
Unfortunately for the Twins, that offensive eruption petered in their three postseason contests.
TWINS GO HOMERLESS
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"We wouldn't be here without him swinging the bat," said Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer of Kubel. "He had a rough series, but he was huge all year for us."
"Playoffs are tough, and as a baseball player, you go through good and bad times," Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "Unfortunately for us and for him, the last three games were a tough time. But you can't take anything away from his incredible season. If not for Kubel, we wouldn't have been in this situation."
A humble Kubel, possibly brought down temporarily by his playoff struggles, certainly wouldn't take sole credit for the Twins' late-season success.
"Not necessarily without me," said Kubel, speaking in quiet tones about the setback. "Not without Cuddy or Denard [Span] or Joe [Mauer]. It wasn't just me. It was a lot of guys."
Sunday's 0-for-4 finish with three strikeouts included a potential base hit in the fifth that turned into a rare 9-6 fielder's choice. Kubel ripped a line drive past Robinson Cano at second, but with Cuddyer holding up at first to see if Cano made the play, right fielder Nick Swisher had time to throw the ball to Derek Jeter to force Cuddyer.
Even when Kubel made solid contact against a tough southpaw such as Andy Pettitte, he couldn't record a hit. Kubel also came up short defensively on Cano's softly-hit single to right during New York's two-run ninth, leading to the Yankees' second run of the frame. With Rivera on the mound, the Yankees didn't even need those two insurance runs, but Kubel's late break from his deep positioning contributed to Alex Rodriguez coming home.
Factoring in Kubel's previous playoff showing in 2004, he now has two career hits and 11 strikeouts in 21 at-bats. Not near the numbers Kubel would like, but his tremendous 2009 showing proves there's plenty of room for growth where the 27-year-old is concerned.
"I'm proud of everyone here," Kubel said. "We all played awesome toward the end. We got wins when we needed them and it was a great year."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.