MINNEAPOLIS – The New York Yankees in the field and Hunter Wendelstedt behind the plate. Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't had any luck against either of them.
Gardenhire's long-running feud with Wendelstedt flared up at an inopportune time for the Twins, resulting in an ejection in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss in Game 2 of the AL division series on Thursday night that put them on the brink of elimination.
Minnesota has now lost 11 straight postseason games. Eight of those defeats have come against the Yankees.
It's at least the fourth time Wendelstedt has ejected Gardenhire during his managerial career, but Gardenhire insisted there is no lingering animosity between them.
"Hunter and I, it has nothing to do with that," Gardenhire said. "We cleared that stuff up (and put) all the other stuff behind us. We get along just fine, all right."
Carl Pavano appeared to have Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman struck out in the seventh, but Wendelstedt called the pitch a ball. Berkman hit a double on the next pitch that put the Yankees ahead 3-2.
Gardenhire came out to visit Pavano on the mound and intentionally lingered, prompting Wendelstedt to come out and hurry things along. Gardenhire barked at Wendelstedt on his way back to the dugout and was quickly ejected.
Wendelstedt was not available for comment after the game and crew chief Jerry Crawford was very short when asked if there was anything personal that came into play.
"Nothing," Crawford said.
Gardenhire insisted that he was only trying to protect Pavano and calm him down, so he drew Wendelstedt away from the mound.
"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 said. "I thought the ball was a strike, he didn't call it a strike and I wanted to make sure he knew that."
Then Gardenhire was asked about Phil Cuzzi's call in last year's ALDS that took away an extra-base hit from Joe Mauer at Yankee Stadium.
"I cleared the air with Cuzzi, too," Gardenhire cracked. "Everything is fine. It's baseball. It's the human element and it is the way it is in this game. Sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don't."
Still, it's hard to ignore the history. Gardenhire was suspended for one game in 2005 after a profanity-laced rant to reporters about Wendelstedt following an ejection against Baltimore.
The two went back and forth again in 2009 after Wendelstedt gave him the hook in a game against the Tigers when Gardenhire wanted a balk call on Armando Galarraga.
"I would challenge (Gardenhire) to sit down and watch the replays," Wendelstedt said then. "Because he was wrong. ... I'm going to invite him to my umpire school. If he wants to learn what a balk is, he can come down in January to umpire school and we'll teach him."
Gardenhire's reply: "If he'll agree to take the chances over, I'll go with him."
In an Associated Press story about scouting reports on umpires that ran earlier this season, this is how one team assessed Wendelstedt: "Inconsistent zone, both in-game and from game-to-game, seemingly losing focus at times by balling pitches over middle and calling strikes on pitches well off plate. Seems to want hitter to put ball in play."
Berkman, of course, said Wendelstedt made the right call.
"I felt like Hunter was very consistent all night," he said. "That's the game of baseball. It's one of those things that happens. I'm glad that the call went our way tonight and next time it might not."
Their latest confrontation resulted in the 53rd ejection of Gardenhire's career and it appeared to rattle his team just a little. Brett Gardner laid down a bunt in the next at-bat, but rookie third baseman Danny Valencia couldn't quite handle it on the barehanded pickup, giving the Yankees runners on the corners and nobody out.
Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single to make it 4-2, and that margin was more than enough against the Twins' punchless offense.
Pavano also played down the incident.
"I had a chance to make another pitch after that and he hit it off the wall," Pavano said. "That was what lost me the game."