June 16, 2004
It'll look like a hit in the boxscore (and a win in the standings)
As if the Expos didn't have enough things going against them, they dropped a game to the Twins last night that they definitely deserved to win.
In front of about three dozen loyal fans in Montreal, the Expos took a 4-2 lead into the top of the 9th inning. Their new closer, Chad Cordero, had already come in to record the last out of the 8th inning, so he was back on the mound for the 9th.
What happened next was very strange. For the first eight innings of the game, the homeplate umpire, Phil Cuzzi, seemed entirely reasonable to me. The six Montreal pitchers who preceded Cordero didn't walk a single batter, and Minnesota pitchers handed out just three walks.
Then, all of a sudden, with one out in the 9th, Cuzzi's strike zone vanished. Cordero threw pitch after pitch -- over the outside corner, over the inside corner, up in the zone, down in the zone -- and Cuzzi just wouldn't call strikes.
After falling behind Jacque Jones 3-0, Cordero got an "automatic" strike over, got Jones to swing and miss at a pitch, and then gave up a solo homer. Suddenly it was 4-3 Montreal.
The next five batters Cordero faced went like this ...
He eventually got out of the inning, but not before it was 4-4, and not before he had thrown 36 pitches. 36 pitches. And only 15 of them were strikes, of which Phil Cuzzi was responsible for calling just eight.
While all of this was going on, the Montreal dugout, and specifically Frank Robinson, was going crazy. Cuzzi stopped at one point, took off his mask, and yelled back at them. If the Expos thought Cordero being squeezed was bad, they were in for a real shocker a little later on.
After the Expos failed to score in the bottom of the 9th, the game went into extra innings. Neither team scored in the 10th and then Luis Rivas, who had pinch-run for Joe Mauer in the 9th (after Mauer walked, of course), led off the 11th with a line drive deep down the left field line.
The ball was scorched and it traveled right down the foul line. I couldn't tell, at first glance, whether it had stayed fair or hooked foul at the last moment. Neither could Rivas, because he sprinted to first, sort of stopped, started to run again, and then looked around. He eventually crossed home plate with the go-ahead run, while Frank Robinson came charging out of the dugout.
Montreal's leftfielder, Brad Wilkerson, came sprinting to the infield to voice his opinion, and the pitcher, Jeremy Fikac, also had some words for the umpires. Meanwhile, it looked to me like none of the umps were quite sure what happened. None of them made anything even remotely like a forceful gesture. They just sort of ambled around, huddled up, talked to Robinson, and walked around some more. In the end, the homer counted.
Upon further review, the ball was foul. Not by much, but it was definitely foul. Rivas had simply hit a long foul ball, but somehow the Twins had a 5-4 lead. Frank Robinson was understandably upset. First his closer had been pinched in the top of 9th and his team blew a two-run lead, and now the umpires had just ruled that a foul ball was a homer, not because any of them emphatically thought it was one, but more like they sort of thought it probably was and no one had a strong opinion otherwise.
Robinson talked and the umps listened. Then he yelled and the umps listened. Then he made his way back to the dugout, but stayed there for about 20 seconds, before storming back onto the field. The first guy he got to was the first base ump, who presumably had the least to do with ruling on a homer down the left field line.
Frank then yelled some more but couldn't get thrown out of the ballgame, no matter what he did. At least as far as I could see. He then decided he'd had enough. He was no longer interested in simply yelling in the faces of these umps. He began walking back to his dugout and stopped on the way to wrap his hands around his neck. Several times. One time he even jerked his head back repeatedly. Frank Robinson was choking himself.
I really wish I had a picture to show you, but I couldn't find one online. If you'd like to re-enact it to see what it looked like, simply place both hands tightly around your neck and then nod your head repeatedly, up and down. Throw in a few choice words and you've basically got the Frank Robinson-choking-himself look down.
I'm not sure if Frank was choking himself to show that the umps were basically "killing" the Expos or if he was saying that the umps "choked" by making the wrong call in an important situation. Whatever he was saying, it was funny and it was entirely warranted.
I never did see Frank Robinson get the old "heave ho" last night, but after he was done choking himself he did leave the scene, fleeing to the Montreal clubhouse for what was almost certainly an altercation with a folding chair or a cooler full of Gatorade.
The Expos should have won last night, their 21st victory of the season. Chad Cordero should have gotten the save, his 2nd of the season. The game should have ended in nine innings. Luis Rivas should never have come to the plate and should never have hit a foul ball, let alone a home run.
But guess what? I'll take it.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
W L WIN% GB
Minnesota 36 28 .563 ---
Chicago 34 27 .557 0.5
Texas (Drese) -100 over Cincinnati (Van Poppel)
Seattle (Franklin) +110 over Milwaukee (Capuano)
Boston (Lowe) -150 over Colorado (Cook)
Chicago (Loaiza) +115 over Florida (Beckett)
San Francisco (Hermanson) +115 over Toronto (Halladay)
Total to date: -$2,745
W/L record: 101-138 (2-2 yesterday for +90, with one rainout.)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****