Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Jason Kubel's eighth-inning strikeout against Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 2004 Division Series has haunted Twins fans ever since.
Torii Hunter offered an interesting twist recently in this piece by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, saying a young righthanded hitter turned down a chance to pinch hit in that spot.
But two Twins sources I spoke to this morning refuted that claim, saying there's no chance they would have pinch hit for Kubel in that spot. As our Ken Chia notes in this post, the Twins had two righthanded options on the bench at the time -- Lew Ford and Matthew LeCroy -- as well as the switch-hitting Augie Ojeda.
Ford had a terrific 2004 season, but he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 1, including a strikeout against Rivera. It's possible, one source conceded, that the Twins asked Ford if he felt like he was seeing the ball well off Rivera for a potential pinch-hit appearance that night and that the answer was no. But those questions get asked all the time. Managers want an honest response, and the bottom line is that even if Ford had puffed out his chance and said, "Heck yeah, I own that guy!" the Twins weren't going to send him up against Rivera instead of Kubel.
This was the 2004 Jason Kubel, the pre-knee surgery monster whose every plate appearance had impressed the Twins. And while Rivera's cutter does tend to make him more effective against lefties than righties, think about that eighth-inning sequence: The first two batters Rivera faced were lefthanders. Justin Morneau singled, Luis Rivas entered as a pinch runner, and Corey Koskie followed with a ground-rule double.
Among the lingering disappointments for the Twins is that Rivas didn't steal second, despite being given the green light against Rivera and Jorge Posada. Had Rivas swiped the bag, it wouldn't have mattered that Koskie's ball hopped into the stands. But you can go on and on with the if-game after a night like that.
So yes, with one out, all the Twins needed was a sac fly from Kubel, and Rivera schooled him, climbing the ladder for a three-pitch strikeout. The Twins lost the game in 12 innings and seemingly never beat the Yankees again -- until Kubel hit a grand slam off Rivera on May 16, 2010.
Hunter and Michael Cuddyer made other good points in Heyman's piece about how the Yankees seem to be in the Twins heads. But the revisionist history about Kubel's at-bat only stirs bitter memories. We'll ask Manager Ron Gardenhire for his thoughts when he does his press briefing later today, but I'm guessing he'll have a different recollection than Torii.
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