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Internal fire burning bright in Cabrera

Internal fire burning bright in Cabrera

NEW YORK -- Let's call it a potential game-changing moment.

Runners on second and third with two outs for the Twins in the seventh inning of Wednesday's American League Division Series opener at Yankee Stadium, hard-throwing Phillip Hughes on the mound and Minnesota staring at a four-run deficit. The Twins had the right man at the plate, though, in Orlando Cabrera.

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It was Cabrera who launched the go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning of Tuesday's AL Central tiebreaking victory over the Tigers at the Metrodome. And it was Cabrera who had provided such important leadership in key moments on and off the field since coming over from Oakland at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Pulse
Twins at a glance
2009 record: 87-76
2008 record: 88-75
AL Central champs
ALDS matchup:
Twins at Yankees
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Mahay: First postseason
Gomez: Work in progress
Cabrera: Veteran fire
Mauer: '91 memories

Cabrera didn't disappoint as far as the nuts and bolts went of this at-bat. He got down 1-2, but worked the count full on pitch No. 8 from Hughes and then fouled off the ninth pitch, the fifth foul ball of the confrontation. On pitch No. 10, Hughes nailed the outside corner with a 95-mph fastball and Cabrera swung through for the third strike and third out.

The first reaction from Cabrera was understandable anger, as he tried to snap the bat over his knee. Despite joining Joe Mauer and Nick Punto as the only Twins with two hits on Wednesday, he left a team-high five runners on base.

But something interesting happened as Cabrera trotted out toward his position at shortstop after that strikeout. He turned around toward the Twins' bench and started clapping. Not some sort of phony, rah-rah cheer, but more to indicate that there was plenty of fight left in him and his team despite this singular battle being lost, 7-2, when all was said and done in the Bronx.

For a young group such as the Twins, already down their top run producer in Justin Morneau, this sort of intensity from Cabrera has become invaluable.

"He's been huge," said Mauer of Cabrera. "I think he brings a lot of confidence to our team. We have definitely talented guys. But I think he's come here with confidence that [says], 'Hey, we're going to do this.' And people feed off of that. Not just his defense and his bat, but his leadership in the clubhouse with some of our younger guys."

"Well, Orlando, when we got him, one of the things he brought was incredible energy," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "He's brought some leadership. He's had some huge hits. He's a winner."

THE 1-0 SERIES
The advantage of winning Game 1 of a Division Series is far more pronounced in the National League than in the American League since DS play began in 1995.
Records of teams going up 1-0:
  1. ALDS 14-14
  2. NLDS 25-3
  3. All DS 39-17
  4. All Series 153-84
Teams to come back from 1-0 in ALDS:
  1. 2006 Tigers (lost World Series)
  2. 2005 Angels (lost ALCS)
  3. 2004 Yankees (lost ALCS)
  4. 2003 Red Sox (lost ALCS)
  5. 2003 Yankees (lost World Series)
  6. 2002 Angels (won World Series)
  7. 2001 Yankees (lost World Series)
  8. 2001 Mariners (lost ALCS)
  9. 2000 Yankees (won World Series)
  10. 1999 Red Sox (lost ALCS)
  11. 1998 Indians (lost ALCS)
  12. 1997 Indians (lost World Series)
  13. 1996 Yankees (won World Series)
  14. 1995 Mariners (lost ALCS)

Factoring in Minnesota's amazing run to the postseason, during which the Twins won 17 of their final 21 regular-season games, Cabrera has now reached the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. There's no denying, as Smith pointed out, that Cabrera is a winner.

Take the 2008 season with the White Sox as an example. Cabrera's skills with the bat have him better suited to be a second hitter, but with the South Siders in desperate need of a leadoff man, Cabrera assumed the role and batted .293 with 75 runs scored in that lineup slot.

He also was on the field for the White Sox AL Central tiebreaking victory over the Twins, a 1-0 thriller, giving him a pair of these rare moments in back-to-back seasons.

"Just unbelievable," said Cabrera of the two tiebreaker victories. "I really have a lot of stories for my grandchildren to be in so many good games.

"For me, it was a challenge," added Cabrera of his move from Oakland to Minnesota. "Every move I make, for me, it's always a challenge. It always starts with going to the postseason, no matter what team. It's about getting everyone involved in the same goal."

The Twins are Cabrera's fourth team in the past three years, going from the Angels (2007) to the White Sox ('08) to the A's and his current destination in '09. His reputation took a slight hit during a few up-and-down moments with the White Sox, but Smith said the team "had real good reports" on him when they made the move.

In fact, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire implored Smith to add Cabrera even earlier than the deadline.

"We actually were playing in Oakland [from July 20-22], and I kept telling our GM, 'Get this guy before he beats us four games in Oakland,'" Gardenhire said. "He's been here. He's been in the playoffs. He's not afraid."

"When we were at home playing Minnesota, Morneau and Mauer were telling me they were trying to get me," Cabrera said. "I don't know if they were looking for a shortstop or looking for intensity every day. That's what I am and what I give to them. It has been a good experience for me."


"He's come here with confidence that [says], 'Hey, we're going to do this.' And people feed off of that. Not just his defense and his bat, but his leadership in the clubhouse with some of our younger guys."
-- Joe Mauer, on Orlando Cabrera

This Cabrera experience also has been good for young Twins players such as Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla, who Cabrera has sort of taken under his wing. Casilla responded Tuesday night with the walk-off hit to send the Twins to New York.

"Orlando is a veteran guy who has been through all the wars," Smith said. "He's a big part of why we are here."

One of those "wars" came with Boston in 2004, when Cabrera was part of the Red Sox team that rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the AL Championship Series against the Yankees and went on to win the World Series. So, Cabrera knows a thing or two about comebacks against New York.

Frustration might have set in following Cabrera's seventh-inning strikeout on Wednesday, and the Twins' opening loss. But one moment like this leaves Cabrera down, but certainly not out, a trait that makes him a perfect fit in Minnesota.

"He's been leading by example, actually, with his bat," said Gardenhire of Cabrera, who hit .440 in 25 regular-season October at-bats, with seven RBIs. "He's been swinging really good. But he's a really positive influence on our baseball team. He's been really, really good for our baseball team."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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