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Umps' foul play taints postseason

The baseball is compelling, the umpiring dreadful.

Some of the Twins contingent were apoplectic about umpire Phil Cuzzi's blown call in left field which deprived Joe Mauer of a ground-rule double in the 11th inning. Mauer's fly ball into the corner ticked Melky Cabrera's glove while he was still in fair territory, then landed a few inches inside the line before bouncing over the wall. But Cuzzi incorrectly ruled it foul, and while Mauer singled, the Twins failed to score in that half inning before the Yankees sent them home a 4-3 loser in Game 2 on Mark Teixeira's walk-off homer.

As if it's bad enough that there's close to a $140 million payroll disparity between the Twins and Yankees, many a Twin left the Bronx feeling it wasn't a fair playing field, even beyond the bucks.

"It's a [bleeping] joke,'' one Twins source said. "What are the consequences?"

There are no immediate consequences, as crew chief Tim Tschida acknowledged. And while bad calls will happen, as the Twins' inspirational leader Nick Punto and some other of his more calm Twins teammates acknowledged, perhaps baseball does need to look at its grading system. MLB says playoff umpires are chosen on merit. Yet somehow, we still have C.B. Bucknor, Chuck Meriweather, Angel Hernandez and Bob Davidson working the first round.

Cuzzi doesn't have that sort of negative rep (unless you're Ozzie Guillen, who had a famous run-in with him). But baseball looks bad to have this happen a day after Bucknor missed multiple calls at first base in the Angels' Game 1 victory over the Red Sox. And baseball needs to do a few things, such as:

• Take a look at its points system or who's grading the papers, one or the other.

• Look at whether it's worthwhile to have umpires down the outfield lines. Tschida noted it's "uncomfortable'' working those lines because of footwork difficulties.

• Require the umpire in question to come out to face reporters, just as the players do. Unlike players who mess up, umps are allowed to take the fifth unless they are in charge.

Tschida, a true pro, handled the questions perfectly well. But he wasn't the one who messed up.

"I hope everyone goes in to ask the umpire about it. I wasn't the only one who blew one tonight,'' said closer Joe Nathan. The All-Star surrendered a game-tying, two-run home run to Alex Rodriguez, who received a curtain call on a stirring night that featured a Yankees comeback, some stunningly bad baserunning and 17 men left on base by the snake-bit Twins. A lot happened, but a lot of the focus was still on Cuzzi's call.

"I think everyone knows the Yankees caught a break,'' Nathan also said. "It was eight inches inside the line. So I don't know how he missed it.''

Tschida said Cuzzi was back in the umpire room, feeling as bad as he could.

"They said nobody feels worse about it. But how about the guys in this room?'' a Twins source said about his own clubhouse.

Twins executives weren't too pleased either, phoning in to the league office to complain, which is something they didn't do on the field. Mauer said he missed it since he was running, and since the ball was deep in the corner, it could only be seen by third-base coach Scott Ullger. The Twins didn't argue the call. Not at the time, anyway.

MVP-in-waiting Mauer, who takes reasonableness to a new level, actually singled after having his double taken away. And since Jason Kubel followed with a single through the hole between first and second base, Mauer noted how the hole was bigger for Kubel with him being held at first, suggesting the situation might not have been better had the correct call been made. Perhaps thinking of the 17 men the Twins left on base and one hellacious baserunning blunder by Carlos Gomez, Mauer said, "We could have won the game earlier.''

But it was hard for most not to focus on the umpiring error. Afterward, Twins executives gathered in a small side room, watching MLB Network and shaking their heads. They especially didn't like the part where Tschida noted that there are no repercussions "other than we just feel horribly when that happens to us, you know?''

There was nothing more he could say.

Free-agent-to-be Hideki Matsui would like to return to the Yankees, and those close to him saw some hope for that after he got the call from Yankees manager Joe Girardi to start at DH over Jorge Posada. The Yankees love Matsui, who hit 28 home runs with 90 RBIs to go with a .274 batting average this season, but the general feeling is that they'd prefer to keep the DH slot open next year and that Johnny Damon (also a free agent) might fit better than Matsui since Damon can play the outfield somewhat acceptably. Matsui will need knee surgery again after the season just to be able to DH.

One place that seems to make sense is the Mariners, since they have a potential DH opening with Ken Griffey Jr.'s contract up. However, people close to Matsui say he and Ichiro are not close, and Ichiro still wields a lot of power in Seattle. Ichiro is known to have one-on-one meetings with ownership (it is widely believed it was Ichiro who caused Mike Hargrove's ouster, though he technically resigned on a seven-game winning streak), and it is also believed that it's unlikely Ichiro would recommend the Mariners sign Matsui.

Matsui's first choice is the Yankees. But Gaku Tashiro, a reporter with Sankei Sports who consistently has the best info on Matsui for years, said he believes Matsui would like to stay in the U.S. and play even if it's not with the Yankees.

The Yankees have determined that if they get to the ALCS, Joba Chamberlain won't be starting for them. This has nothing to do with The Joba Rules. It's that he simply hasn't good enough lately as a starter.

The Yankees will either employ bargain-basement pickup Chad Gaudin, or simply go with three starters, using their Game 1 starter in Game 4. Gaudin was acquired for $100,000. But this isn't about money or hype now. They simply need to use their best starters.

When I inquired whether this might mean that Chamberlain might be shifted to the bullpen next year, I was told by a Yankees source, "We're really not thinking past the Twins yet.'' But Joba's 9-6 season with a 4.75 ERA was a rare disappointment for the Yankees. He also had a 5.40 ERA in the second half, which was even worse.

That could mean that 1) the Yankees really are not thinking about anything past the Twins, or 2) they no longer view Joba as the savior starter of the future. Yankees higherups have been steadfast supporters of the disappointing Chamberlain. But of course, it's easy to give him every chance in the regular season. Now, when the games count, real opinions are learned. Chamberlain came into the game in the seventh inning of Game 2, but Girardi removed him after two outs were made and as soon as one Twin reached base. Girardi didn't let Chamberlain face a left-handed batter with a runner on first base.

If Chamberlain is taking this personally, he isn't saying, "I'm good," he said. "You can't think about it. Whatever situation comes up, it comes up.''

The first time I started to wonder whether Chamberlain's status was falling was when I heard Yankees people saying they might consider including him in a trade if the Blue Jays ever truly considered trading Roy Halladay within the division. Alas, it never came to that, as Toronto never got back to the Yankees with anything less than Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, plus more.

Chamberlain has been easily outpitched by Gaudin, a terrific pickup who's yet to lose a start. But this is more about Chamberlain than Gaudin. In the long run, some baseball people believe Hughes might make a better starter than Chamberlain. While Chamberlain has a more diverse repertoire, Hughes has a greater ability to think on the mound. Chamberlain is more of an adrenaline pitcher, which is conducive to relief.

• The Phillies know that this winter will be a good time to try to lock up Cliff Lee. A.J. Burnett's $82.5 million contract will be a comparable used there (though Lee actually has better results than Burnett).

• Burnett, by the way, pitched well enough that presumably he gets to have Jose Molina catch him the next time he starts. He allowed one earned run in six innings, though he did walk five (while striking out six).

• There seems to be a little buzz to the talk of Milton Bradley to Tampa. The Rays weighed the character issue when they got rid of Elijah Dukes. But perhaps they think Bradley will do better in a smaller media market than he did in Chicago. A Rays exec said something along the lines of "We'll consider anything,'' which doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. A Bradley-for-Pat Burrell trade has been speculated in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jonathan Broxton and Ubaldo Jimenez have hit 100 mph this postseason already. Red Sox rookie Daniel Bard hit 97 on the Angels radar, which is the slower gun.

• The Matt Holliday drop brought back memories of a similar play 31 years ago in the NLCS when Gold Glove outfielder Garry Maddox dropped a ball that was catchable though not quite routine (much like Holliday's ball). Maddox, who won eight Gold Gloves, couldn't handle Dusty Baker's fly. The game and series ended when the next batter Bill Russell singled in the winning run. The headline the next day was: "The Day Garry Maddox Dropped a Pennant."

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