Hustle helps Cuddyer hold NL batting title
LOS ANGELES -- All was decided long before the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer stepped into the batter's box in the fifth inning Sunday. Yet, it mattered.
No matter the result, Dodger Stadium was going to be the site of an on-field pep rally as the boys in Dodger Blue prepared for the playoffs. The Rockies would finish last in the National League West. And no matter what happened with that at-bat against the Dodgers' Ricky Nolasco, Cuddyer had sewn up his first NL batting title.
Yet, when Cuddyer hit a slow ground ball that Dodgers shortstop Michael Young had to backhand, Cuddyer responded the only way he knew -- to bust his buttons dashing down the first-base line. The infield hit on a 1-for-5 day was the last of the 162 hits he used to fashion a .331 batting average. The Braves' Chris Johnson, who did not play Sunday, finished second at .321.
"No question, that's the way it should have gone," Cuddyer said with a laugh.
Cuddyer, 34, entered the season with a .271 career batting average with the Twins (2001-11) and the Rockies (2012). In some respects, this season was not much different. He finished with 20 home runs, 31 doubles and three triples for 54 extra-base hits. He had 48 last year, when an oblique injury cost him the final two months and limited him to 101 games. He also had 51 in 2011, 56 in 2010 and a career-best 73 in 2009.
But this season, he piled up the singles. A habit of dashing hard out of the batter's box always puts him in position to reach on infield balls, like the one Sunday. But he dashes out of the box the same, no matter how hard his hits. This year, the successes happened to add up.
"It's more singles -- a lot more singles," said Cuddyer, who had a club-record 27-game hit streak from May 28 to June 30. "I don't know what to attribute that to. It just happened. My approach didn't change. Nothing really changed. For some reason, I got more singles."
Teammates appreciated Cuddyer's work. On the day when they said heartfelt goodbyes to first baseman Todd Helton, who is ending his 17-year career, they paused after the game to give a postgame clubhouse ovation to Cuddyer, who most likely will play more first base than outfield next season.
"It was really cool," Cuddyer said. "Obviously they are as much a part of this as I am. It's a special day for all of us."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Cuddyer was rewarded for his leadership and hustle.
"It's really cool when you see the game reward guys like that," Weiss said.
Cuddyer became the sixth Rockies player to win a batting title. He joins Andres Galarraga (1993), Larry Walker (1998-99, 2001), Helton (2000) and Carlos Gonzalez (2010).
At the start of next season, Cuddyer will receive from Louisville Slugger the sterling-plated Silver Bat, which is 34 inches long and will be engraved with Cuddyer's statistics in a ceremony at Coors Field.
With it, Cuddyer may receive some criticism, because Rockies offensive statistics are often discounted because of the offense-friendly reputation of Coors Field. Though Cuddyer hit .356 at Coors Field, he also managed a .313 average on the road.
"I guarantee you this is the highest I've ever hit on the road, so I don't think you can bring the Coors Field factor into it too much," he said.
Cuddyer missed two weeks early with a neck issue, and he battled bruised ribs, a severe cold that cost him a few games and, earlier this month, a left wrist sprain that made the final days painful. But he hit .385 (30-for-78) in September.
"I remember 2009, I think I hit 10 or 12 home runs in September and October to help [the Twins] get into the playoffs," Cuddyer said. "So I typically feel like I finish strong most seasons."