Ozzie Guillen was right when he called Javier Vazquez a lousy big-game pitcher. He was wrong when he said the key to the biggest series of the season would be to "make sure you grab a big net and get those piranhas and put some poison in the water to make their teeth fall out."
It wasn't the "Piranhas" -- the Twins' scrappy singles hitters -- who tormented the White Sox on Tuesday as much as a less-exotic species.
Jason Kubel -- an average-looking station-to-station hitter on a team that prizes sleek athletes -- hit two home runs and a triple and accounted for the Twins' first three runs in their gotta-have-it 9-3 victory over the White Sox.
Kubel became the first Twin to hit two homers and a triple in the same game since Rich Becker on July 13, 1996.
Big-league clubhouses are full of bravado, some of it false. Kubel might be the Twins' most nondescript athlete, and he's the rare major league player who will admit to wavering confidence.
"Some days I doubt myself," he said. "Nights like tonight, I'm right back."
In the first of three games the Twins know they have to win, they fell behind 1-0 in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the inning, Vazquez quickly walked Justin Morneau, as if he couldn't wait to pitch to Kubel. Kubel then mashed a meaty pitch off the vampire seats, the Twins led 2-1, and any worries about pressure or nervousness seemed to vanish.
"That took a lot of pressure off of us," Morneau said. "That was a big, big game for Kubel."
Said Guillen: "We try to go away from Morneau. I'm not going to let Morneau beat me. Kubel is the guy who is going to beat me in this series. Hopefully we will pitch better against him the next game."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire played Kubel instead of Michael Cuddyer because he said he thinks Kubel has earned the right to be the main DH, and because he said Kubel, despite being 2-for-21 lifetime against Vazquez going in, has taken good at-bats against him. Cuddyer is 12-for-35 lifetime against Vazquez.
Score one for Gardy's gut. Kubel tripled in the fourth and scored, moved Joe Mauer to third with a grounder in the fifth and homered in the seventh, evoking memories of the days when he was considered a hitting prospect on par with Morneau and Mauer.
In 2004, Kubel hit .377 at Class AA, .343 at Class AAA and .300 after being called to the majors in September. In a series at whatever they called new Comiskey Park in Chicago that September, Kubel hit his first two big-league home runs, causing Guillen to approach Kubel behind the batting cage, begging for mercy.
That October, Kubel tore up his knee playing in the Arizona Fall League. He missed all of 2005 and managed just 340 at-bats between Class AAA and the big leagues in 2006.
Last season, Kubel hit .273 with 13 homers and 65 RBI in 418 at-bats. This year, he settled in as the Twins' most frequent designated hitter, and he's second on the team with 20 homers and third with 78 RBI.
Those numbers make Kubel the third-most productive hitter on a Twins team that has scored the third-most runs in franchise history. Those numbers also leave him flat.
"I still don't feel like my old self," he said. "The homers, that's an upgrade from what I've ever done up here, and the RBIs, but I feel I'm a much better batting average hitter. I just haven't shown it in my couple full years up here."
Is it his knee? "No, it's too late, that happened too long ago to use that excuse," he said.
Guillen was right twice: In 2004, when he identified Kubel as a hitter to watch, and in 2008, when he identified Vazquez as a pitcher you don't want on the mound in a big game.
Tuesday, Kubel proved Guillen right on both counts with the best, and most important, night of his career.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com