Patrick Reusse: One more challenge gone bad

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2010 - 7:04 AM

A familiar nemesis tossed Ron Gardenhire when a close pitch that turned the momentum pushed buttons.

The Twins are down 2-0 in a Division Series and headed for another fast departure from the postseason. New York's 5-2 victory was not a surprise when you consider the elements in place Thursday night at Target Field:

• The mighty Yankees had eliminated the Twins three times in Division Series in the previous seven seasons.

• Andy Pettitte was the opposing pitcher and had held the Twins to one run in two prior playoff starts (and victories) against them.

• Carl Pavano, the Twins starter, was facing the usual obstacle of a Yankees lineup with threats from top to bottom.

• And: The plate umpire was Hunter Wendelstedt, a gentleman with whom Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had a disputatious history.

Many folks with a Twins rooting interest were convinced that Yankees ace CC Sabathia was pitching to a wider strike zone than was the Twins' Francisco Liriano on Wednesday, when the Yankees rallied for a 6-4 victory in the series opener.

The chief of this crew, Jerry Crawford, was behind the plate, and if his work was flawed, it caused no visible angst in the home clubhouse.

The odds were small that the Twins and their manager would be as tolerant with Wendelstedt behind the plate, since Gardenhire had a history of exchanges with him that went beyond the normal disagreements.

In July 2005 in a game against Baltimore, Wendelstedt ejected Gardenhire from the home dugout at the Metrodome. Postgame, the Twins manager spent 10 minutes lamenting his team's hitting slump, and then was asked:

"What did Wendelstedt tell you when he threw you out?"

There was quickly fire in Gardenhire's eyes and he went into a tirade that included several references that compared Wendelstedt to the south end of a horse headed north.

Gardenhire said he shouted at Wendelstedt from the dugout that a pitch was high, and that the plate umpire threw him out instantly. Gardenhire burst from the dugout and, according to him, Wendelstedt said:

"You're just out here for showtime."

To which Gardenhire said, in his postgame rant: "... He tells me all I wanted was showtime. He can kiss ..."

You get the point.

There was a two-sided exchange of insults in August 2009 in Detroit. According to Gardenhire, Wendelstedt accompanied an ejection by saying to him: "How do you like that?"

After that game, Gardenhire said: "That's the second time I've run into this with this guy. He's got an attitude. ... He's got a smart mouth."

One dispute that night involved the Twins' contention that Detroit's Armando Galarraga was balking with quick-pitch deliveries.

"I would challenge [Gardenhire] to sit down and watch the replay, because he was wrong," Wendelstedt said. "... If he wants to learn what a balk is, he can come down in January to my umpire school and we'll teach him."

On Thursday night, the Wendelstedt-Gardenhire dynamic found a larger spotlight -- in the seventh inning of a playoff game in which Lance Berkman's double had given the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

A moment earlier, Pavano threw a 1-2 pitch that caught a large piece of the strike zone. Wendelstedt decided it wasn't his job to call out a Yankee. On the next pitch, Berkman doubled home Jorge Posada.

Gardenhire went to the mound and you knew what would happen next. The manager talked until Wendelstedt made his "break it up" trek.

The manager gave Wendelstedt his opinion -- with increasing animation as the pair retreated toward the plate. The inevitable finally occurred: another Wendelstedt ejection of Gardenhire.

In his postgame interview, the Twins manager was asked about his "history" with Wendelstedt. "It has nothing to do with it," Gardenhire said. "Hunter and I talked and we kind of straightened all our stuff away. ... I went out to make sure my guys were straight on what we were going to do next, and make my side of the story known."

Gardenhire also said he wanted to get Wendelstedt away from his players because they were "full of emotion." And he repeated: "Hunter and I, we get along just fine, all right."

Perhaps, although a request to ask a couple more questions in the manager's office was returned with this message from Gardenhire:

"All that could do would be to get me in trouble."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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