With the Twins leading 6-1 with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, Ron Gardenhire lifted Kevin Slowey in favor of Jesse Crain.
Crain entered to face Willy Aybar, who is a switch hitter. Naturally, Aybar continued to hit left-handed against the right-handed Crain. Versus right handers this year, Aybar was hitting .259 with a .354 on-base percentage. Definitely not an inspiring line by any stretch of the imagination, even if it would have beaten quite handily the production of Twins second basemen in 2009. Crain, meanwhile, had held left-handed hitters to a .254 batting average with a meager .329 on-base percentage. Also, not bad.
From pitch one, Crain attacked Aybar with confidence, throwing him three consecutive sliders to start off the at-bat. All of them were strikes. Or rather, all three of them should have been strikes. Home plate umpire Chris Guccione, however, didn't see it that way. Instead of striking out looking on three pitches, Aybar sat 2-1. Crain and Aybar continued to battle, and while Aybar did an admirable job fouling off a couple of pitches, Guccione gave him two additional favors. Pitches number five and eight ended up being balls three and four, and both were borderline.
Borderline calls are hard to begrudge the umpire, because there is an area of the strike zone that is open to interpretation. There always will be that human element in the game and there always should be. But in the context of this at-bat, not only should those pitches have never been thrown but the repurcussions nearly cost the Twins the game.
This is the strike zone plot for Crain's battle with Aybar.
As you can see, there isn't anything borderline about pitches two and three.
Aybar walked to make the score 6-2. Jason Barlett then smashed Ron Mahay to tie the game with one swing. I hate complaining about umpiring, I really do, and Mahay still should have done his damn job, but this kind of thing still kills me. You know what? I'm taking Jason Kubel's catwalk hit and calling it even. Justice of the baseball gods.
Oh, by the way. The run that ended up being charged to Crain on that grand slam was the first run charged to him since three unearned runs on June 10. Seriously.