Umps do it once again

October 12, 2009

by Aaron Schultz

As I am writing the opening of my column Saturday afternoon, it is not looking good for the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins are down 2-0 in the best-of-five playoff series against the New York Yankees.

The third game was played Sunday, after I had to finish up the paper, so I have no idea if the Twins are still playing, or not.

Either way, I needed to go off on a little rant on Friday nights’ game, which the Twins lost 4-3 in 11 innings.

First off, the Twins had plenty of chances, and pretty much gave the game away thanks to two big factors.

The biggest of these was the inability of closer Joe Nathan to close the door in the bottom of the ninth when the Twins were winning 3-1.

The second factor was that the Twins left 17 men on base.

Come on Twinkies, get a hit with a guy on base!

Anyways, neither of those two items are what I needed to rant on.

If you watched the game, I bet you can guess what I am so upset about – yep, a call by an umpire.

That umpire would be Phil Cuzzi, who was the umpire down the left-field line.

That’s right, during playoff games Major League Baseball has six umps per game, with one down each of the two foul lines to make big calls of fair or foul.

Joe Mauer led off the top of the 11th with a fly ball down the left field line that, when I heard it on the radio, was a foul ball.

After getting numerous text messages while I was out covering a football game, I had to believe that the ball was actually fair, and the ump had missed it.

I figured that it must have been close to the line, or on it, and Cuzzi just missed a close call.

Later on in the evening, I made it home and watched that part of the game, which I set my DVR to record.

I pretty much sat there in silence the first three or four times I watched it in disbelief.

The next three or four times I watched it were spent with me yelling at the TV.

The ball hit the outfielders glove in fair territory, then hit the ground at least two feet inside the line – still, Cuzzi called it foul.

That-a-way Major League Baseball, way to get the best of the best for the playoffs.

Ultimately, the Twins should have won earlier in the game, and that call shouldn’t have mattered at all.

Still, give me a break! This is Cuzzi’s job, and if that is all the better he can do, he should join the ranks of the unemployed in America.

Best game I have ever been to

Game 163 was well worth the wait.

The Minnesota Twins hosted the Detroit Tigers Tuesday in a one-game tiebreaker for the Central Division title.

The winner of the game would advance to the American League playoffs, while the loser was done for the season.

Last year, the Twins were in a similar position, having to play the Chicago White Sox in game 163 for the division title.

Against Chicago, the Twins fell 1-0, ending their year on the outside-looking-in for the playoffs.

This year, I, like I would guess most Twins fans, gave up on our favorite baseball team having any chance of making it to the playoffs.

The Twins underachieved most the year, and found themselves seven games back in early September.

I wrote the Twins off, and focused my sports attention to the Minnesota Vikings.

Then the Tigers began to falter, and the Twins got hot.

It set up a four-game series in Detroit with the Twins trailing by two games.

Wow, the Twins had a chance, and I was back into it.

Unfortunately for the Twins, they split with Detroit, leaving them two games back with just three to go.

In fact, prior to the final game of the series, which the Twins won, they were three games back with four games to go – a deficit that had never been made up before in Major League Baseball history.

At this point, I thought “what a run,” and figured I’d turn my attention back to the Vikings and wait until next year, when the Twins would open up brand new Target Field.

That is when one of the most exciting weekends I have ever experienced as a Minnesota sports fan occurred.

Friday night (Oct. 2) the Twins beat Kansas City in game 160, while the Tigers were beat by Chicago.

Now just one game back with two to go, the Twins had a glimmer of hope.

That brought us to Saturday (Oct. 3), which was set up to be a pretty exciting day.

After working in the morning, I swung up to the Blue Note to watch the opening half of the Gopher football game against the hated Wisconsin Badgers.

It was a good first half, with the Gophers leading at the break.

But it was time for me to leave and get ready for my cousin Dusty LaMott’s wedding, which was taking place in Silver Lake that afternoon.

In typical Gopher fashion, by the time we got to Silver Lake and was heading into the church, the maroon and gold lost to Bucky Badger.

This made me a little nervous, thinking, as a typical Minnesota sports fan, that things might continue to roll downhill for my other favorite teams.

Oh, when I am talking about “we,” it doesn’t mean I had a turtle in my pocket. In case you are wondering, that means myself and my wife, Jody.

OK, back to my story.

Following church, we made it to the closest TV in Silver Lake and watched the opening few innings of the Twins game, which started at 3 p.m. on national TV.

The Twins were facing the Royals’ Zach Grienke, the favorite for the Cy Young award.

It was going to be a tough game for the Twins, and since the Tigers didn’t play until later that night, there was a chance that the Twins could be eliminated by the end of the day.

Well, we made it over to New Germany, where the reception was taking place, and again found the closest TV we could to catch the end of the Twins’ game.

It was one heck of a game, which the Twins won by one when Michael Cuddyer hit a home run in the eighth inning.

When the game was over, we headed over to the reception and ate a very good meal, hung out for a while, and then made our way back to a different TV to watch the Tigers take on Chicago.

Could the day get better? Oh yes, it could.

The White Sox beat the Tigers, putting the Twins in a tie with Detroit for the top spot in the Central Division with just one game left to play.

This improbable run just a few weeks ago looked like it just might happen for the Twins.

Both the Tigers and the Twins won their games Sunday, setting up game 163.

Immediately following the Twins’ win Sunday, Jody jumped online in an attempt to get tickets to Tuesday’s tie-breaking game, which would take place at the Metrodome.

Well, we waited online for over five hours before a message popped up saying all the tickets were sold out. That really sucked.

But I had one more chip I would try to cash – our work tickets.

I popped my head into my boss’s office first thing Monday morning and asked if he still had the tickets for Tuesday’s game, or if they were being used.

That is when I was informed that I was beaten to the punch by fellow Herald Journal employed Bruce Johnson.

So I walked down to Bruce’s office to let him know that if he did come across any additional tickets to Tuesday’s game, I would be happy to take them off his hand.

He immediately offered me two of the four work tickets, and I jumped on them.

Sweet, I was going to what turned out to be the best game I had ever attended.

But I didn’t want to jump ahead of myself since there was another big event happening Monday night – the Vikings hosting the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.

My brother (Cullen) and Marc Kohler swung on over to my place Monday to watch the game, and what a game it was.

The Vikings, especially Brett Favre, played great and the purple topped the Packers in what was a very entertaining game.

Wow, could the luck of the Minnesota sports teams be turning?

The Vikings are 4-0, and the Twins were playing for a division title.

It was a pretty exciting weekend, which just got extended into Tuesday, when the Twins hosted the Tigers.

Lucky enough to be at the game, it was nuts!

Up and down, up and down. I think I stood more than I sat during the game – especially during the final five-plus innings.

The game had everything, highs and lows.

Numerous times the Twins had chances to win it, as did the Tigers, yet both teams continued to battle.

Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Carlos Gomez led the inning off with a single, moved to second on a ground out, and scored on an Alexis Casilla single.

Yes, Gomez and Casilla were the heroes.

It was just an amazing game, one that I have no idea how to describe.

I heard from many people that it was great to watch, but I can’t explain how cool it was to be there.

The noise was off the charts, the crowd was into every pitch, and the Twins won.

Following the game, the cheering seemed to never end as the Twins celebrated on the field.

I’ve been to many games at the Metrodome, my least favorite stadium in the world, yet on this day, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

High fives were flying around like I was with my dog Journey, and there were more hugs going around than there were at the wedding I was at Saturday.

What did the Twins get rewarded with for that improbable win? A date with the New York Yankees in the playoffs.

By the time you are reading this column, the Twins may have already been eliminated from the playoffs, but I don’t care, not this year.

I will be hanging on to the memory of that game, and the entire weekend for that matter, for a very, very long time.

Friday Night Lights is over for 2009

I really didn’t get to thinking about this until Friday morning when I was getting ready to leave for Collegeville to watch the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Bulldogs football team play St. John’s Prep, but there are no more Friday night football games this year.

Actually, the Bulldogs’ final Friday night game took place Oct. 2, when they hosted Randolph.

LP/HT then played St. John’s Prep Friday afternoon, will play Wednesday, Oct. 15, and then follow that up with two Tuesday night games, followed by a possible Saturday game in the second round of the playoffs.

The only way the Bulldogs will play Friday night again this year is if they make it to the Section 4A championship game – which could happen.

As for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Lakers and the Watertown-Mayer Royals, they both played their final Friday night games this past Friday.

The scenario is the same for them, as they will play a Wednesday game, then two Tuesday games, before a possible Saturday game.

The schedule this year was changed around some and that is why there is one less Friday night game for the Lakers and Royals – two less for the Bulldogs, since they played Friday afternoon.

It just seems weird to me that Friday night games are pretty much over for most of the high school teams in the state.

Where did the season go?