Sports fans tend to cling to long-held beliefs about their teams, for better or worse. This week, we are exploring five of them to determine whether fact or fiction rules the day. Today: Phil Cuzzi and the 2009 ALDS.
Major League Baseball’s 2009 postseason was not the finest hour for several umpires. Upset by a rash of blown calls, MLB brass broke from tradition and selected only experienced umpires to work the World Series.
Twins fans still seethe about umpire Phil Cuzzi ruling a would-be double by catcher Joe Mauer foul in Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium. Minnesota went on to lose in extra innings and Cuzzi remains one of the more loathed umpires in Twins Territory.
Crew chief Tim Tschida acknowledged Cuzzi made the wrong call. But the Twins’ lack of clutch hitting later in the inning — not Cuzzi’s lapse in judgment — was the biggest factor in their defeat.
Leading off the 11th inning, Mauer sliced a ball toward the left field corner. Not only did the ball glance off the tip of Melky Cabrera’s glove in fair territory, it also hit the dirt about six inches inside the foul line before bouncing out of play. Cuzzi, watching from the perfect angle about 10 feet away, inexplicably called it foul.
“There’s a guy sitting over in the umpire’s dressing room that feels horrible,” Tschida said after the game. “I’ve been there.”
Ranting by the Twins’ faithful starts there. But they forget Mauer finished his at-bat with a single. And base hits from Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer loaded the bases with no outs.
Then Delmon Young lined out. Carlos Gomez grounded into a force out at home plate and Brendan Harris flew to center, ending the threat. Mark Teixeira’s home run in the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Yankees a 4-3 triumph and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. New York swept the Twins and went on to win its 27th World Series championship.
Without question, a leadoff double by Mauer vs. a single brings a different energy. And a Kubel single likely scores Mauer and forces the Yankees to consider their options.
Unforgiving Twins fans should consider theirs, too. Pinning the loss on one blown call? What about 17 runners left on base?
Here's the boxscore and play-by-play
Asked a year later about his relationship with Cuzzi, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said: “Everything is fine. It’s baseball. It’s the human element, and it is the way it is. Sometimes they go your way, and sometimes they don’t.”