Michael Cuddyer keeps the faith

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2010 - 2:33 AM

He was drafted when the Twins had no playoff dreams, so he refuses to see a mere 0-2 deficit as insurmountable.

NEW YORK - Michael Cuddyer grew up cheering for the Yankees. "That quickly faded," he said.

When? "Right when I got drafted by the Twins, it was gone," he said in the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Friday. "Then when I got to the big leagues, it was definitely out."

Cuddyer, the Twins' first baseman out of necessity, grew up in Virginia. The Twins plucked him from a hotbed of high school baseball talent that yielded B.J. and Justin Upton, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.

When you're a kid on the East Coast, rooting for the Yankees is easy. When you reach adulthood as a Twin, those haughty pinstripes suddenly look like prison bars. Saturday night, Cuddyer will try to help the Twins break out, in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.

Cuddyer was drafted during the Twins' dark days, in 1997. The team hadn't had a winning season since 1992 and wouldn't have another until 2001. His arrival in the big leagues coincided with the Twins' return to relevance.

He debuted in 2001, when the Twins broke their streak of eight consecutive losing seasons, and helped the Twins upset the A's in the 2002 Division Series. Since then, nobody knows the trouble Cuddyer has seen. No other Twins player, anyway.

The Yankees have beaten the Twins in eight consecutive playoff games. The Twins have lost 11 playoff games in a row, not counting Game 163s.

Cuddyer is the only current Twin who has played in each of the team's postseason appearances since 2002 -- seven playoff series and two intradivisional playoffs. Considering his tenure with the team, his love of the organization and its humble persona, and his willingness to play any position -- left, right, third, second and now first in place of injured Justin Morneau -- to help fill out the lineup card, we can assume no Twin feels the sting of playoff failures more than Cuddyer.

"It's frustrating, no doubt," he said. "It's really frustrating. But right now, as you're going through it, you can't really reflect on that. We still have a chance. We have Game 3, and the first pitch is thrown and it's 0-0. That's how I have to approach it.

"Because if I let the last six times in the playoffs all compound on me, it would be tough to get up for the game. So by no means do I think like that.

"You want it so bad. That's the hardest thing. You want it so bad, and you've been so close, so many times. That's why I still have faith that, come Saturday, we're going to be ready to play."

In baseball, faith is buttressed by superstition. After joining teammates who grew facial hair to honor Carl Pavano's mustache, Cuddyer shaved on Friday morning. He continues to wear a light blue T-shirt reading: "Win!"

He isn't sure he'll be able to sacrifice a chicken, the way the Indians did in the movie "Major League," but he'd be willing to supply the poultry. "Maybe we can get Pedro Cerrano in here," he said, referring to the movie character who practiced voodoo in front of his locker.

Cuddyer, a gifted magician, knows the Twins need a little practical magic now, a moment that can change a game, maybe change the tide against the Yankees.

"We need a big hit," he said. "It would take a big hit or two, something to give us the confidence that we can do it."

Cuddyer thought he might have given his team such a moment. In the second inning of Game 1, he smacked a pitch from CC Sabathia into the pine trees at Target Field, the first time Cuddyer had hit one to the forbidden territory. "I hoped that would do it," he said.

Cuddyer has done his part. He's hitting .357 in 21 postseason games, with two homers and eight RBI for a team that has produced only 19 runs in its past eight playoff games. And he's kept the faith, because what good is faith if you can't lean on it in hard times?

"This is painful," he said. "But as you write your story today, it's still hopeful. There is no doubt in my mind that we can win this series and move on. No doubt in my mind at all."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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