We all saw it last night. 1 out, bases loaded, bottom of the 9th inning and the Twins losing 1-0. Danny Valencia hits something between a traditional bloop single and a fly ball down the left field line. The surprise was not so much that Mauer scored but, rather, that Michael Cuddyer, who was on second base, began running hard toward third a mere split-second after contact, and was able to score the game-winning run relatively easily.
Michael Rand at the Star Tribune liked Cuddyer's play. La Velle E. Neal had great post game quotes from Cuddyer regarding his base running, most notably: Cuddyer's knowledge that the left fielder, Luis Valbuena, was, in reality, a second baseman; that Valbuena was playing deep no-doubles defense; and that Valbuena was an inexperienced outfielder. You have to wonder how much Cuddyer was able to process in the time period he was standing on second base, but, given those statements, it's hard to fault the guy for taking a gamble. Perhaps the Twins even had a discussion on the bench when Valbuena entered the game in left field?
My take on Cuddyer's gamble last night is that it was correct for another reason aside from Cuddyer's knowledge of the left field situation: The way the Twins' offense has been scuffling since the All-Star break (pathetic is a word that comes to mind), what are the odds that yet another batter is going to reach base successfully or somehow drive in another run? Otherwise stated, the Twins had loaded the bases as a result of Mauer's walk, Cuddyer's ground-ball single, and an intentional walk to Jim Thome. There was one out, and batting was Danny Valencia, who, despite having a disappointing season, was 7-for-15 with the bases loaded. He presented the best opportunity for the Twins to score one or two runs. Valencia was the fourth straight runner to reach base against an otherwise very good closer. That doesn't happen too often.
Had Cuddyer stopped at third on the single, after Valencia in the batting order would have been Delmon Young, and then Nishioka. If this had this been July, 2010, I would have wanted Young up in that position. But not this year. Similarly, I have little doubt that Nishioka would not have come through. Maybe next year, maybe even later this season, he will be a better player. But for right now, I don't want him up in any clutch situation. Further, the Twins had already depleted their thin bench by giving Trevor Plouffe Drew Butera's spot in the lineup and having Luke Hughes pinch-run for Jim Thome.
Imagine if Valencia's hit had instead been a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Mauer, or even a short fly ball that didn't score anyone. Under the first scenario, the game would have been tied with 2 outs, and runners on first and second; under the second scenario, the Twins would still have the bases loaded and still be losing. Under either situation, however, 2 disappointing hitters would be due up, only one of whom Twins fans have ever had confidence in, and that was a relatively short period of time one year ago.
The conclusion: The Twins' best chance to win the game was in Danny Valencia's bases-loaded at-bat. Though it was a gutsy play on Cuddyer's part to take off, he clearly had assessed the situation, and I'm sure, internally, knew that Valencia was the best bet, and it worked out.