In this All-Star moment, Michael Cuddyer won. A week and a half after popping out in his only at-bat in the showcase in Phoenix, the hot-hitting Cuddyer faced another All-Star, Royals reliever Aaron Crow, and showed just why he deserved the honor.
With the score tied in the eighth inning, Cuddyer poked a 1-2 breaking ball into center to score Alexi Casilla for the eventual game-winner. Unlike the previous night, when Matt Capps blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth, Joe Nathan -- in his first day back in the closer role -- got the job done, allowing one hit sandwiched between three pop flies, in the Twins' 4-3 victory.
"It's still the same job," said Nathan, "but the stuff going on outside of the field is the stuff that's different, with the music playing. Usually it's like advertisements going on in the eighth inning, and the crowd gets a little louder in the ninth inning. Everything seems a little bigger in that inning ... so you have to calm down a little bit more."
The save by Nathan was something he and the Twins hadn't seen for a while -- not since the home opener April 8 against Oakland -- but getting a huge hit from Cuddyer is nothing new for the Twins this year. Coming into Saturday's game, the all-purpose infielder/outfielder was hitting .359 with three home runs and 13 RBI in his past 11 games, and his stellar offensive performance this year landed him in his first All-Star Game.
The big hit in a pressure situation is something his team is coming to expect from Cuddyer. He is hitting .429 this season with a man on third and has the second-most RBI on the team, with 43.
"It's a good feeling when he comes up to the plate," said bench coach Scott Ullger, who was filling in for manager Ron Gardenhire, who left near the beginning of the game because he was feeling ill. "I know he was mad he left a couple out there last night, but tonight he came up big for us. He's been coming up big for us the whole month of July, June. He's our leader out there."
The Twins needed a leader after an early 3-0 lead disappeared in the fifth when the Royals' Alcides Escobar hit a two-out, two-run homer off Carl Pavano. Up to that point, Pavano had faced just 17 batters through five innings.
Ben Revere manufactured a run for the Twins in the first inning by outrunning a soft grounder to second, stealing second and coming home on a groundout. Delmon Young made it 2-0 when he followed Cuddyer's single with his fourth double since returning from Rochester at the beginning of the homestand.
In the fourth, Drew Butera hit his second home run of the year to put the Twins up 3-0.
After blowing the lead, the Twins got consecutive singles from Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer and Cuddyer in the eighth to go back on top.
Glen Perkins, who was unavailable Friday after getting hit in the ankle by a ball while playing catch, came in for a 1-2-3 eighth to set up Nathan's save.
"To get that first one out of the way, it's definitely nice, especially the way it's been pretty tough for us in the ninth inning lately," Nathan said. "Just to try to get one for us, and more importantly, the win. Winning series is the biggest thing for us right now if we're going to have any chance of beating Cleveland or Detroit or Chicago."