Outfielder Jason Kubel, who has overcome a serious knee injury to become a big-time contributor to the Twins, has become quite a clutch hitter with the bases loaded.

"I usually feel good in bases-loaded situations," Kubel said after his eighth-inning grand slam in Friday's 11-9 come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Angels. "I feel like I usually put pretty good swings on the ball."

The homer was the 45th of Kubel's career; five are grand slams. And when he doubled with three men on in the fifth inning of Saturday's 9-2 victory, that made him a .483 career hitter with the bases loaded.

"He solidified himself last year as one of our better hitters," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Kubel. "And he has a lot of confidence that he's going to get big hits right now, that's why I put him behind [Justin] Morneau [in the batting order], because of that."

Kubel said that spring training in Florida always gives him allergies and it takes him awhile to get going when the team leaves Fort Myers; he added that he had been hitting the ball hard in recent days, and it resulted in a 4-for-5 effort Friday night, with the ninth cycle in Twins history. He was 4-for-5 again Saturday.

Kubel overcame a serious knee injury suffered in the fall of 2004, costing him the entire 2005 season. He looked good at times in parts of 2006 -- including another dramatic winning grand slam, a 12th-inning shot to beat Boston 5-2 on June 13 of that year. But by the second half of that season, both knees were bothering him, and he played in only 32 games after the All-Star break.

Then, in 2007, he was hitting around .250 for most of the season, only to hit .341 the last two months. That carried over into last year, when he seemed to really find himself as a major league batter, reaching 20 homers as the Twins' primary designated hitter.

Catcher Mike Redmond said the players always give Kubel a tough time about hitting balls into the upper deck in batting practice. "We call it Kubel land up there," Redmond said. "But you know what? He believes he can go up there."

Well, if Friday is an indication of what he can do, once the Twins get Joe Mauer back, they are going to score some runs. And with the pitching as erratic as it has been, they might need to score a lot on a nightly basis.

Gave a pep talk

The Twins had lost three of four at home to Toronto, making it five losses in six games. The club was feeling down, with the entire pitching staff struggling.

So after Thursday's loss to the Blue Jays, Gardenhire decided to give the team a pep talk, hoping to provide a needed lift to the players.

Well, the Twins had a reason to be positive the next day, after they came back from a five-run deficit. Then they put together a great all-around effort Saturday night.

"Toronto took it to us pretty good," Gardenhire said. "We talked about it after the game, and we talked about staying together and not giving up, and it was a little bit rough there in the seventh inning ...

"These guys have no quit. They're playing the game. They're getting after it. That was fun. This is a good baseball team. We just have to do a few things a lot better. Coming out of the bullpen, some guys have got to do a little bit better, but, we're asking a lot of them right now, putting a lot of pressure on them."

Gardenhire called it a pick-me-up meeting.

"The guys were down and weren't feeling too good about themselves, so it was more of a pick-me-up meeting than a kick-'em meeting," he said. "It's one of those things you talk about, 'Hey, stay together, keep rooting for each other, keep playing the game ... we can't let this thing get away from us, we have to keep pulling together as a team, and, you know what, [Friday], they never quit playing and you end up winning."


There is such a shortage of pitching in baseball that the Twins claimed Juan Morillo from Colorado even though he had a career 11.42 ERA. Morillo can reach 95-96 miles per hour with his fastball. Twins General Manager Bill Smith said the Rockies tried to get Morillo through waivers so they could send him to the minors, but the Twins claimed him and found out they got him. Now the Twins will do the same with Philip Humber, seeing if the righthander can get through waivers. Smith said Humber, one of the four players the Twins received in the trade that sent Johan Santana to the Mets, didn't get much of a chance here this spring. "We're going to see what happens," Smith said of Humber. "We've got 10 days to do something with him, whether we either trade him or assign him to [Class AAA] Rochester, we'd have to run him through waivers, so, we're going to wait and see."

This week, former Gophers tight end Ben Utecht is releasing his first music album. Utecht, who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, has sung the national anthem before games in the past and is an accomplished Christian music artist. Utecht's self-titled album is being released by the Stylos Records music label started by Sandi Patty, a five-time Grammy Award winner. She said of Utecht to the Associated Press: "When he sings, people's expectations are going to be so low because he's a football player, let's face it. Because of the stereotype, I think he has the potential to win people over. I've seen that happen."

The Gophers football team will play two home night games this year: Air Force on Sept. 12 and Michigan State on Oct. 31. ... Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi won't let the men's basketball team to play any home games the same day the football team is in action because of the traffic problems around Williams Arena and TCF Stadium. ... Maturi said Gophers sports teams will continue to face North Dakota State, but not North Dakota: "Again, we are not yet scheduling North Dakota because of the Fighting Sioux [nickname]. That's still an issue with the University of Minnesota. Once that get resolved, we'll be receptive to playing them," he said.

Marc Ryan, the Gophers associate athletic director, has been named the winner of the 2009 Lake Conference Distinguished Alumni Award. Ryan is a graduate of Rosemount High School, where he earned all-state honors in cross-country and track and field, as well as all-conference honors in basketball.

Bill Lester, who runs the Metrodome, said that if the Dome gets another Final Four, the configuration will be the same as Detroit, where they drew 72,000 fans for this year's games. "They put the court right in the middle of the field," Lester said. "They elevate it like the University of Minnesota court [at Williams Arena], and then they build the seating around it."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com