There were quite a few "backs against the wall" and "must-win games" thrown out to the American League batting champion -- understandable with the Twins down, 0-2, to the Yankees in the best-of-five American League Division Series. But when the topics became more specific, the questions naturally gravitated to the blown call by left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi in the top of the 11th inning of Friday night's 4-3 loss to New York at Yankee Stadium.
For better or for worse, that play is now ingrained in the minds of Twins fans from St. Paul to Edina.
Mauer led off the 11th against Damaso Marte with a twisting fly ball toward the left-field corner that clearly landed fair, and on replay, even appeared to brush the edge of Melky Cabrera's glove in fair ground. The drive was immediately ruled foul by Cuzzi.
"We're not used to playing that far down the line," Cuzzi told the Newark Star-Ledger on Saturday. "The instant the ball is hit, we usually start running. I think I may have been looking too closely at it. I never had a feel for where the left fielder was on the play.
"There is no excuse. I missed the play," Cuzzi added. "It's a terrible feeling. As badly as many people on that field may have felt [Friday], I don't think any of them had a worse night's sleep than I did."
Sure, Mauer followed with a single and Minnesota actually loaded the bases with no outs in the 11th, but the AL Central champs didn't score. It would be easy for the Twins to blame the call, in part, for the loss that put them in a deep hole against the best team, record-wise, in Major League Baseball.
Stranded on the sacks
|LAD||STL||16 *||10/7/2009||NLDS 1|
|LAA||BOS||16 *||10/5/2008||ALDS 3|
|CHW||HOU||15 *||10/25/2005||WS 3|
|ANA||SF||15 *||10/22/2002||WS 3|
|NYY||NYM||15 *||10/21/2000||WS 1|
|PHI||ATL||15 *||10/10/1993||NLCS 4|
|NYM||OAK||15 *||10/14/1973||WS 2|
|CLE||NYY||14 *||10/5/2007||ALDS 2|
|SD||@STL||14 *||10/7/2006||NLDS 3|
|TOR||OAK||14 *||10/11/1992||ALCS 4|
|DET||SD||14 *||10/12/1984||WS 3|
To the Twins' credit, the play seemed to be pretty much filed away during their flight home to Minneapolis.
"I guess it really doesn't matter now," said Mauer with a smile. "Umpires are human, too. They will make mistakes just like we do. But you can't focus on that and say, 'That was the game right there.' We had our chances to win, and we just weren't able to do it."
"It's a shame, but those things happen," Minnesota second baseman Nick Punto said. "That's part of the game. Umpires miss calls. We had plenty of opportunities to win that game. It just didn't work out."
Both Punto and Mauer speak the truth. Yes, the call on Mauer's fly ball was shown to be wrong -- admitted as such by crew chief Tim Tschida -- and it might have led to a run. But as Mauer pointed out postgame, by being on first base, it opened up a hole between first and second for Jason Kubel's single. That opening might not have been there if Mauer were on second.
Ultimately, Friday's outcome came down to what the Twins didn't do, as opposed to what Cuzzi should have done.
Minnesota didn't hit with runners in scoring position. The 17 men left on base marked the most for the Twins in any sort of competition since April 6, 2004, against Cleveland, when they stranded 19.
Yankees starter A.J Burnett walked five, yielded three hits and hit two over six innings, providing Minnesota with ample scoring opportunities. Even in the 11th, after the Cuzzi call, the Twins didn't exactly execute patience against David Robertson, New York's final reliever, with Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez swinging at first pitches and making outs that stranded the trio of runners.
Then there was Gomez's baserunning gaffe in the fourth inning. The fleet-footed outfielder slipped as he tried to stop himself while rounding second on Matt Tolbert's single to right, and instead of getting into a rundown, Gomez tried to dive back into second. Nick Swisher's throw to Derek Jeter nailed Gomez for the third out, a couple of strides before Young could score from second.
Blaming Cuzzi or the umpiring crew in general would be a bit shortsighted, considering the Twins could have won this game in nine innings. After all, they benefited from a missed hit batsman call on Brandon Inge in the top of 12th inning of Tuesday night's AL Central tiebreaker that would have given Detroit the lead in a game won by Minnesota in bottom of the frame.
"Breaks are part of it, and it went against us this time," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We made enough mistakes, and we missed opportunities to win the game ourselves."
Then again, Minnesota, as a team and as a state, still was a bit shocked by what transpired.
"That's why they have an umpire out there, for that call," Minnesota third baseman Brendan Harris said. "It's unfortunate that he missed it.
"Pitchers up in the clubhouse came back and were like, 'What is going on?' It was like in football -- they kind of ran a play before they could look at it and got back on the mound. You've got the outfield guy, you've got the third-base guy and you've got the ump at home plate.
"Somebody probably would have seen inside the line. There's only a foot of foul territory anyway. For the ball to hit [Cabrera] and be foul, he would have had to have been already hitting the wall instead of two steps and then hitting the wall."
If the Twins are eliminated Sunday or Monday -- or even in a Game 5 on Wednesday -- they won't point fingers at the umpires. In fact, Mauer hadn't even watched the replay as of Saturday, although he admitted to having interest in taking a look.
"But it's not going to change it. I saw a picture in the paper today, but what can you do," Mauer said. "Off the bat, I thought it was going to be fair. I rounded first, he called it foul and I didn't really think anything of it. So it is what it is. We are down 2-0 and have to get this one tomorrow."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less