Umps' calls, Yankee luck boggle mind

October 19, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

BOSTON -- The better team won, no one will argue that. The better team also won the American League Championship Series in 1996. Both times, the New York Yankees were clearly superior to a wild-card opponent.

Yet, just as the Orioles' loss to Jeffrey Maier and Co. in '96 created a sense of injustice in Baltimore, the Red Sox's loss in '99 won't soon be forgotten in New England.

When Babe Ruth's daughter criticized the umpires before last night's 6-1 clincher, it marked the latest bizarre twist in the "Curse of the Bambino," which now meets the standards of cruel and unusual punishment.

At a news conference before she threw out the first pitch, Julia Ruth Stevens, 82, explained that she used to be a Yankees fan, but shifted her loyalty to the Red Sox this season.

Why did she switch to the Sox?

"Because I think that they deserve a break," she said, drawing laughter from reporters.

"Well, they do," she continued. "They've had a lot of tough breaks. And the umpires certainly haven't made it any easier for them, I must say."

Spoken like a true fan. But when the Daughter of "the

Bambino" talks, perhaps the commissioner should listen.

The Red Sox can't use the umpiring as an excuse, not when their play reached championship levels only behind Pedro Martinez. They made 10 errors in the series, setting an LCS record.

And they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in last night's final, crushing 6-1 defeat.

The Yankees won the series in five games, just as they did against the Orioles in '96. They allowed only eight runs in their four victories.

And when they didn't get a call they deserved last night -- a batter's-interference on a stolen base by Nomar Garciaparra in the sixth -- series MVP Orlando Hernandez simply retired the side.

The Yankees' 36th AL title is no less legit than their 34th.

Still

A blown call in Game 1, a blown call in Game 4, two immediate mea culpas from the umpires, a thousand what-ifs.

"They were the toughest team we've had to play in the four years I've been here," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They would just not go away."

Isn't it time this evens out?

Isn't it time the Yankees get jobbed for once?

"I'm not pointing any fingers. There's no need to," Garciaparra said. "They [the umpires] were out there doing their job. There's no bitterness. It's just hard to lose and say it's over after such tight ballgames."

Both significant calls that went against the Red Sox resulted from misplays by Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. And both prevented Garciaparra, the AL batting champion, from hitting in the late innings of a close game.

The first blunder occurred in the 10th inning of Game 1, when second-base umpire Rick Reed called Jose Offerman out at second after Knoblauch dropped a throw from third baseman Scott Brosius trying to turn a double play.

The correct call would have given Boston runners on first and second with none out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Even if Brian Daubach had grounded into a double play -- as he did on the next pitch, ending the inning -- Garciaparra would have batted with a runner on third and two out.

In Game 4, second-base umpire Tim Tschida called Offerman out at second, even though Knoblauch never tagged him, enabling the Yankees to complete an inning-ending double play. The correct call would have given Garciappara a chance to hit with two out and a runner on second against Rivera.

"Your best against my best we don't know what's going to happen," Torre said. "But for sure, we got an advantage from it."

The Yankees didn't need it. And truth be told, they didn't it '96, either.

In the Maier game, the Orioles went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and issued a two-out walk to force in a run. Bernie Williams ended it with an extra-inning homer, just as he did in Game 1 of this series.

Angry as they were at Maier's interference, the Orioles conceded that they should have broken the game open earlier. And the Red Sox were just as culpable Sunday night in Game 4, making four errors and getting a runner thrown out at home plate.

"We didn't lose to a better team," Garciaparra said defiantly. "We just didn't play good enough to win."

Again, the issue isn't whether the Yankees deserved to win the two series -- they took three straight at Camden Yards in '96 and two of three at Fenway in '99.

But if the umpires keep admitting they're blowing calls, why don't they ask each other for help? That's all Red Sox manager Jimy Williams wanted to know after Knoblauch's phantom tag on Offerman.

"They're a team, just like we are," Williams said of the umps before last night's game. "We work as a team. I still think they need to work as a team. I'm saying it again. Shouldn't have to."

Sandy Alderson, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said yesterday that MLB needs to establish a set policy on umpire communication, and maybe that will happen now that the umpires will be under the control of the commissioner instead of the league presidents.

"I think people had better take a look at it, like they do in those other professional sports," Williams said. "They better take a good look at it, and not always have to ask these guys to ask somebody else.

"They better step up, because they're accountable for their actions as a group, just like we are. They better start helping each other."

Good as they are, the Yankees don't need the help.

Pub Date: 10/19/99

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