MILWAUKEE — Ron Gardenhire is in his seventh season managing the Twins. He’s had a fair share of problems with Charlie Reliford’s various crews of umpires.
Reliford was in charge of the group working the weekend series at Miller Park. His companions were veterans Brian Runge, Greg Gibson and vacation fill-in Scott Berry.
Reliford worked the plate in Friday night’s opener. Carlos Gomez, the Twins center fielder and leadoff hitter, was animated in his unhappiness with a called strike.
In the world of a Reliford crew, a 22-year-old playing his first full season doesn’t have the right to scowl or shake his head over a called strike.
On Saturday night, Gomez stepped in the batter’s box to start the game. Gibson was behind the plate. He leaned over and said something to Gomez, leaving the young outfielder with a puzzled look.
Later, the word in the Twins clubhouse was that Gibson had said to Gomez: “Are you going to be a good guy or a bad guy tonight?”
Gomez’s grasp of English is marginal. He had no idea what message Gibson was trying to deliver.
“All Carlos heard was an umpire saying ‘bad guy,’ ” a member of the Twins field staff said. “He was upset all night.”
The Twins won a sensational ballgame, 9-4 in 12 innings, and arrived at Miller Park on Sunday looking at the possibility of a sweep against the previously warm Brewers.
Joe Mauer was out of the lineup due to catching 12 innings and featuring a slow bat on Saturday. Throw in a DH-less lineup and it wasn’t a surprise to see the Twins display offensive futility against Brewers starter Seth McClung and three relievers.
Yet, the Twins still were in the game — down 3-2 — when Brendan Harris led off the eighth against Guillermo Mota. Harris had two strikes and took time in the box. He was getting into hitting position, saw that Mota was ready to pitch before he was ready, and again asked for a time as he set his feet in the box.
Mota threw the pitch as Harris was bending over in the batter’s box. Plate umpire Brian Runge called a third strike, taking away one of the six outs the Twins had remaining in a one-run game.
This was done in the name of the latest speed-up rules that are alleged to have shaved two minutes off the average game time in 2008.
Harris was complaining for 15-20 seconds before Gardenhire came rumbling from the dugout. Why the delay?
“I was in shock; I honestly couldn’t believe what I saw,” the manager said. “For one thing, my guy’s got his head right next to home plate, and the ball goes right by him.
“This speed-up stuff, that’s all good and fine, but if he gets hit in the head when he’s not looking, what are we going to do then?
“There has to be a little common sense sometimes. I understand they’re forced to do these things. But that’s wrong, just wrong.
“My guy’s looking down, not even looking at the pitcher and ball goes right by him. You tell me that’s right? That’s embarrassing.
“And what I was told there was, ‘Call the league.’ That’s a great statement. My guy’s down on the ground, he got hit in the head. Call the league.”
Harris was confronted by Gibson on Saturday night about stepping from the box. Gardenhire was asked if he might have been “targeted” by the umpiring crew for stepping out too frequently and that’s why Runge rung him up at a crucial point in a one-run game.
“He shouldn’t be targeted ever if he’s not looking at home plate,” Gardenhire said. “If he’s tired of it, walk over and say, ‘That’s it. There will be no more timeouts.’ But letting a guy throw the ball when a guy’s looking at the ground, that’s wrong.”
Harris is a quiet presence in the Twins clubhouse. He’s also thoughtful in conversation, as was the case after Sunday’s 4-2 loss.
“I guess that 30 seconds he sped the game up was worth taking the bat out of my hands,” Harris said. “… I don’t understand, in a 3-2 game, they’re supposed to not let them quick pitch like that.
“In a 3-2 game, in the eighth, you would think you’d have a feel for the game … not try to impose his will, I guess.
“The thing that gets me is I said, ‘Why couldn’t you give me time?’ And he said, ‘I can’t give you time all day.’
“I said Brian, ‘I’ve seen five pitches today, and I’ve swung at three of them. We’re in the eighth inning in like an hour and 50 minutes. Has this game been dragging? How much faster do you want this game to go?’ ”
Gardenhire was ejected after a couple of minutes of working over Runge.
“I was asking, ‘What happens if my guy gets hit in the head … if he’s laying there on the ground bleeding?’ ” the manager said. “Are you going to tell me then, ‘Call the league.’ ”
Actually, what Runge told Gardenhire was, “I’m tired of you,” and threw him out.
Five outs later, the Brewers had the victory in a game that took 2:50 — or three, four minutes longer than necessary if Runge had given Harris a few more seconds rather than stir up a needless argument.
A reporter went to the umpire’s room to inquire about the incident. This message was forwarded by a security guard: “They said to tell you to call the league.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org