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Cuddyer is MLB's clutch player for September

Cuddyer is MLB's clutch player for September

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Justin Morneau's season ended, in the second week of September, the Twins needed someone to step up.

That's exactly what Michael Cuddyer did.

After Morneau went down with a stress fracture in his back, Cuddyer hit .325 with eight homers while driving in 24 runs in the final 21 games of the regular season, helping propel Minnesota to the American League Central title and a berth in the postseason.

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Cuddyer's performance down the stretch also earned him the award for Major League Baseball's Clutch Performer of the Month for September, presented by Pepsi.

Even though he's the winner of an individual award, Cuddyer was quick to credit his teammates for the success he and the Twins had in September.

"The only reason we're here is because everybody's stepped their game up," Cuddyer said. "I've done my part, too, but I think, also, filling in for the guy who was injured puts some attention on myself. Everybody as a group has stepped up, but it's still nice to be recognized, for sure."

"It's been a great team effort to get here, and it had to be a lot of people stepping up," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Michael really, really stepped up big time."

In winning the award for September, Cuddyer beat out Royals starter Zack Greinke, Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees starter CC Sabathia and Braves starter Javier Vazquez.

Before Morneau's season came to an end, Cuddyer spent the entire year in right field. But the versatile Cuddyer has played nearly every position since making his debut with the Twins in 2001, including 38 games at first base, where he played the remainder of the 2009 season.

Injuries hampered Cuddyer's production in 2008, and he again could not replicate the 24 homers and 109 RBIs he put up in 2006. But fully healthy in 2009, the 30-year-old finished with a career-high 32 home runs and drove in 94 runs.

"I was on pace for those numbers again in '07 until I got hurt at the All-Star break," he said. "I knew being healthy, I was capable of having a year like this. It was just a matter of staying healthy."

"Our MVP went down, and [Cuddyer] took it upon himself to go over there," outfielder Denard Span said. "He's played great defense. He's filled in a role as an extra-big bat better than anyone in the league. ... What he's done has just been special. We needed him to pick it up, and he did."

During the first week of each month, fans can visit a microsite powered by MLB.com and created for the Clutch Performer platform, pepsiclutch.mlb.com, to vote for the nominee they believe was the best Clutch Performer during the previous month. Fans can also visit the site to enter a sweepstakes for a trip for two to the 2010 All-Star Game.

Fans also have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year, presented by Pepsi, selecting from among six finalists selected by an MLB.com editorial panel.

Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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