Jason Kubel arrived in the majors late in the 2004 season. He hit .300 in 60 at-bats and earned a spot on the Twins' playoff roster.
The Twins beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS. In the eighth inning of Game 2, with the go-ahead runs on base, Kubel faced the great Mariano Rivera in Yankee Stadium, and television cameras zooming in on Kubel's face revealed eyes the size of Frisbees.
Rivera threw three pitches, the third of which buzzed in at eye level. Kubel swung, then walked back to the dugout like a kid who had just been sent to his room.
The Twins lost the game and the series.
"Yeah, OK, I was young, I was overmatched, it was really more embarrassing than anything," Kubel said Sunday afternoon. "It was a playoff game. Everybody saw it. I remember going home that offseason, and I ran into somebody, and they knew who I was, and the guy said, 'Why did you swing at that pitch?'
"I said, 'C'mon, really?' I thought, 'So that's what I'm going to be known for.' But I think I've done a couple of other things to be known for other than that."
Sunday afternoon, Kubel again faced Rivera with the game on the line in the eighth inning in the Bronx. Again, the go-ahead runs stood on base. This time, Kubel's eyes narrowed like those of a sniper about to pull the trigger. This time, Kubel is looking forward to someone back home asking about his swing.
"This might be the biggest hit I ever got," he said.
Kubel's grand slam off Rivera defeated the Yankees 6-3, and defied history.
Rivera had not blown a save in the Bronx in 51 attempts, which tied a big-league record. The Twins had not produced a grand slam in the Bronx since 1998, when Matt Lawton hit one off Andy Pettitte, in a game current Yankees manager Joe Girardi caught.
Rivera had never before allowed a grand slam at home as a reliever. Rivera had not allowed a run this season.
"I'm glad we could end all of that," Kubel said.
While Rivera has bolstered his reputation as the best reliever of his era, Kubel has slumped against the Yankees, and had slumped in the first six weeks of the 2010 season. In two playoff series against the Yankees, he had hit .095 with 11 strikeouts in 21 at-bats.
"He's harder on himself than anybody," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's why we like the guy, because he's passionate about the game and this team. He wants to be a part of it, and he knows he's a great hitter, and he beats himself up because he doesn't feel like he's helping his team.
"That's why you love the guy. So for him to get that one today, that's big in a lot of ways."
Rivera relies on a "cutter," a fastball that swerves violently toward the hands of a lefthanded hitter. He threw one, and Kubel took it for a ball. He threw another, and the ball dived inside, out of the strike zone.
That pitch in that location has broken hundreds of big-league bats. Kubel told himself, "Keep your hands inside," meaning he pulled his hands toward his belly so he could reach the pitch with the barrel of the bat. The resulting line drive crested the right field fence.
Kubel made a slight fist pump as he rounded first and thought to himself, "Big hit."
On April 17, 2009, Kubel hit his fifth career grand slam to complete a cycle against the Angels. He drove in seven runs in a game in 2007, and beat the Red Sox with a walk-off, 12th-inning grand slam in 2006.
"This is probably a little bigger than all of those, because we had lost, what 12 in a row here?" Kubel said. "This is not just a big pick-me-up for myself. I think now we can have a little more confidence when we face this team again."
After that embarrassing first at-bat against Rivera, Kubel is now 3-for-6 with a grand slam in regular-season at-bats off the best closer of his generation.
"I can tell you about those hits," Kubel said. "One was a broken-bat blooper to center, the other was a grounder up the middle. So they're not big hits, but they're hits. I'd take three bunt hits against Mariano."
On Sunday, Kubel gave the Twins so much more.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • email@example.com