Gardenhire refutes Hunter’s 2004 ALDS claim

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire refuted former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter’s claim that a young right-handed hitter refused to pitch hit in a crucial spot against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 2004 ALDS.

Hunter told that the Twins wanted to pinch-hit for left-handed hitter Jason Kubel with a runner on third and one out late in that game, but that a young player refused to face Rivera.

From Jon Heyman’s story:

Hunter recalled one 2004 ALDS game the Twins lost where they had a runner on third with one out, down a run against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Twins manager called on a young righty hitters to bat against Rivera, and Hunter recalled that hitter turning down the pinch-hit assignment.

“You need a righty hitter against Rivera with his cutter,” Hunter recalled. But according to Hunter, the player shook his head no. So Gardenhire used another kid, Jason Kubel, a lefthanded hitter, who Hunter recalled getting jammed. “Kubel wasn’t afraid, but he’s a lefty hitter,” Hunter said.

The problem is that Hunter didn’t exactly have a perfect recollection, as the Twins were actually tied, 5-5, at that point, as Justin Morneau hit an RBI single before Corey Koskie doubled home a run to bring runners at second and third with one out.

And keep in mind that both Morneau and Koskie are left-handed hitters, and Kubel was no slouch at the plate, hitting .300 with a .792 OPS as a rookie that year. Of course, Kubel struck out and the rest is history — the Twin lost that game in 12 innings and have yet to win a playoff game since, including back-to-back ALDS sweeps at the hands of the Yankees in 2009 and ’10.

Lew Ford appears to be the young right-handed hitter who refused the assignment, and Hunter actually said that in Heyman’s first version, but Gardenhire flatly denied that after the Twins’ 15-3 win over the Pirates on Saturday.

Here’s what Gardenhire had to say in full:

“You know what, I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus or anything like that, but I’ve never had a player, no matter when it was or when you want to say, tell me, ‘No, I don’t want to hit. No, I refuse to bat.’ Never happened. Never happened. Never have I had a player say, ‘No, I won’t go do this.’

“I don’t really know where that came from. I really believe that the thought process through the whole situation was we only had a couple guys. You had Kubel, who was one of our best hitters down the stretch as a young kid. And we had two left-handers in a row get hits – Mornie and Koskie – get hits. And we talked about with Kubes … Lew Ford. But believe me, I wasn’t going to pinch-hit Lew Ford for Jason Kubel with Kubel’s swing. He had a bad at-bat; a lot of people do.

“We talked about [pinch-hitting]. Maybe [Ford] had a better chance. But in the end I said, ‘No we can’t. Not with this kid. This kid can hit. I’ll take my chances with him.’

Lew Ford may have fallen down in the back room trying to get loose and I couldn’t find him, but he didn’t. He may not have been able to find the dugout, but he never said, ‘I can’t hit.’ But that’s who we’re talking about.

And you can print that.”

Update: I originally made a bad typo, saying it was the 2002 ALCS. It was obviously the ALDS. My mistake.

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