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Continued: Cabrera has delivered time and again since trade

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 7, 2009 - 7:34 AM

There have been a lot of midseason additions to the Twins in years past that were important to the team winning a division championship during its 28-year stay at the Metrodome.

Most notably, the acquisition of Shannon Stewart from Toronto in July 2003 awoke a team that was in a big slump, and the Twins went on to win the second of three consecutive American League Central championships.

The 1987 Twins acquired veteran hitter Don Baylor at the end of August, and he hit a big home run in the World Series.

But I wonder if the addition of shortstop Orlando Cabrera from Oakland on July 31 this year doesn't rank as the best.

The Twins gave up a top infield prospect in former second-round draft pick Tyler Ladendorf in exchange, something that this front office is not in the habit of doing. But Cabrera has paid off by helping the Twins earn a division championship. Not only did he hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning of Tuesday night's 6-5 victory over the Tigers in a one-game playoff, but he finished the season with a 16-game hitting streak, during which he hit .411 while scoring 21 runs and driving in 15. He has scored a run in all but one game during the hitting streak.

"He can go out and swing and he's a leader and we talked about that when we were looking," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We were in Oakland [in July] and I told Billy [Smith, Twins general manager], 'I really think this guy could help us.'

"... I love the guy. I think he's great. I think he's a leader, a great second hitter. We'll have to see over the winter what's going to happen, but I like the guy a lot."

Cabrera is now advancing to the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, and with four different teams. Traded to the Red Sox from Montreal in 2004 as part of a four-team trade that also involved the Twins and Doug Mientkiewicz, he was the starting shortstop on Boston's first world championship team in 86 years. He then was part of division-winning Los Angeles Angels teams in 2005 and '07, then was with the White Sox last year when they beat the Twins in a one-game playoff for the AL Central.

Furthermore, two of his prized pupils in the Twins clubhouse, Alexi Casilla and Carlos Gomez, proved to be the heroes in the 12th inning. Gomez got a leadoff single and Casilla drove him in, taking the Twins to New York to face the Yankees tonight in the first round of the American League playoffs.

Casilla and Gomez were both big parts of last year's team that took the White Sox to a 163rd game, but neither saw much playing time during the Twins' end-of-season run, other than as late-inning replacements. Gomez hit .121 since Sept. 1, while Casilla had gotten only three plate appearances since Sept. 12. But Cabrera has been like a father to the two young players, encouraging them not to be discouraged, and perhaps the result of his father-like attitude paid off Tuesday.

With ace Tigers closer Fernando Rodney, who came in the game in the ninth inning, still on the mound to start the 12th, Gomez singled, then went to second on Michael Cuddyer's grounder to deep third. Delmon Young was walked intentionally to bring up Casilla.

Casilla responded with a single that drove in the winning run, just as he did in the biggest home game of last year, a 10th-inning hit off Bobby Jenks last Sept. 25 that capped a three-game sweep of the White Sox and put the Twins ahead by a half-game in the division. Casilla also had a walk-off two-run single in the Twins' first victory of this season, April 7, in their second game against Seattle.

Cabrera signed only a one-year contract with the A's and can be a free agent again after the season. You wonder if the Twins will bring back this great spark plug for the first year of their new ballpark.

Different team

Gardenhire was asked if this team reminds him of the 2006 team that made a similar drive to overtake the Tigers at the end of the season and win the division. That team won 96 games but got swept in the first round of the playoffs by Oakland.

""In '06, when we ran off for two months and ... for the last [four] months we played as good as you could play, and really caught people, it was an unbelievable year," Gardenhire said. "This has been a little different: Injuries, beaten up, we've mixed and matched a lot more this year, but the end result here at the end, catching these guys ahead of us like we have, has been similar."

Gardenhire described this as an impressive group.

"Just for the fact that they haven't quit and there's been a lot going on here," he said. "Some new people we brought in, Billy did a good job of getting some new people in here, but this team has never quit and I don't expect these teams to quit around here. That's Minnesota baseball."

Praises Cuddyer

Smith sang the praises of Cuddyer, who got a big triple off Rodney to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning, after the Tigers had taken a 5-4 lead in the top of the inning.

"Again, Michael Cuddyer has been a huge plus for us," Smith said. "To be able to come into first base and take [Justin] Morneau's spot, and Morneau is a unique guy, he's an MVP player, and you can't lose a guy like that and not feel it, but the rest of our guys never quit, they never hung their heads. Cuddyer came in, Delmon Young got a chance to play every day and he's had a terrific month. It's toughest on Justin Morneau to sit and watch, but he's being a presence, whether it's on the bench, in the clubhouse, on the road, whatever, Morneau has been a huge part of all of our success."

Smith has been equally impressed with Jason Kubel, who had a home run off Rick Porcello on Tuesday that cut Detroit's lead to 3-2. "He's had a phenomenal year, [103] RBI and [28] home runs. He's really become a good hitter and he's such a tremendous kid," Smith said. "Again, a young guy that we drafted out of high school and has come all the way through our system, and a lot of people in our minor leagues and scouting have touched him, and helped him, and certainly our big league coaching staff has helped him a tremendous amount over the last few years. He's such a tremendous high-quality person that I think everybody in the organization pulls for a guy like Kubel."

Jottings

The Twins won Game 1 of the division series at Yankee Stadium in both 2003 and '04 before losing the following three games in each series. Johan Santana started both Game 1s. The Twins have never had a good record against the Yankees, and Gardenhire's record against the Yankees since becoming Twins manager in 2002 is 14-41.

Though the Twins' crowd of 54,088 was their largest regular-season crowd at the Metrodome, the World Series crowds in 1987 and 1991 were bigger because additional seats were put in with the permission of the commissioner's office. Tuesday's crowd was bigger than Sunday's scheduled finale against Kansas City because the Twins gave 4,000 free tickets to all the visitors who were invited for the postgame festivities. ... The Twins sold out Tuesday's game in just four hours Sunday. And fans were lined up after Tuesday's game for the two scheduled playoff games here against the Yankees.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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