COMMENTARY | Since Tom Kelly took over as manager in 1986, the Minnesota Twins have prided themselves on trying to do the little things right. On Tuesday, June 11, the Twins won despite not being able to initially get the right reliever in the game.
During the top of the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, manager Ron Gardenhire, who was promoted to manager when Kelly retired after the 2001 season, took out starting pitcher P.J. Walters with one out, two runners on base, switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins at the plate, and the Twins leading 2-1.
Two left-handed batters followed Rollins, so it should have been no surprise when Gardenhire clearly signaled, not once, but twice on his left arm that he wanted left-handed reliever Brian Duensing to come in. However, it was right-handed reliever Casey Fien that came to the mound instead.
Ron Gardenhire Hands Ball to Reliever before Realizing It Was Wrong One
Not only did Gardenhire not realize the error as Fien was trotting in from the left-field bullpen, he actually handed him the ball and started to walk away according to the Phillies' TV announcers, Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler. He then decided to have his first choice come into the game, so Fien went back to the bullpen while Duensing trotted in.
Why Gardenhire handed the ball to Fien is anybody's guess. Did he not realize it wasn't Duensing that came out of the bullpen? Or was he having second thoughts on what reliever to use?
It's difficult to imagine that Gardenhire confused Fien for Duensing, especially considering they throw with opposite arms. Plus, Duensing has been with the Twins since 2009 and Fien came up to the Twins about a year ago.
Whatever the reason for the confusion, it was not one of Gardenhire's finer moments. He didn't initiate the problem, but it's astounding that he actually handed the ball to Fien.
Umpire Tries to Save Ron Gardenhire from Himself to No Avail
After the game, Gardenhire told The Associated Press that the umpires called for the wrong reliever.
" 'He thought it was a better move,' Gardenhire joked."
The umpire would have been right, too. The irony is that, coming into the game, left-handers were batting .277 against Duensing but just .148 against Fien. Right-handers were batting .279 against Duensing, so Fien would have still been a better choice against the switch-hitting Rollins. So, the umpire nearly saved Gardenhire from himself.
Duensing did strike out Rollins but then gave up a game-tying single to Ryan Howard. Duensing was still able to get out of the inning and got the win that should have been Walters' when the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning.
If the umpire didn't call for Fien as Gardenhire said, the Twins might have been forced to use Fien. According to the MLB rulebook:
"If no announcement of a substitution is made, the substitute shall be considered as
having entered the game when-
(1) If a pitcher, he takes his place on the pitcher's plate …"
So, once Fien stepped on the pitcher's plate, commonly known as the pitching rubber, to start warming up, he would have been required to pitch to Rollins or any subsequent pinch hitter. If the umpire did mistakenly call in Fien as Gardenhire said, then Fien wouldn't be required to pitch until he threw his first pitch to Rollins.
"If, by chance, the umpire-in-chief has, through oversight, announced the incoming improper pitcher, he should still correct the situation before the improper pitcher pitches. Once the improper pitcher delivers a pitch he becomes the proper pitcher."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was even trying to prevent Fien from being taken out despite his superior numbers to Duensing, which goes to show that the umpires know more than we give them credit for.
Or none of them had any idea what was going on.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
More from this author:
- Sports & Recreation
- Ron Gardenhire
- Brian Duensing
- Jimmy Rollins