2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

If you ever needed proof that a narrative can be more powerful than human memory, consider Jon Heyman’s latest piece at CBS Sports. Heyman writes about the Twins’ repeated postseason defeats against the Yankees. Within, Heyman asks former Twins Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer whether it became mental, whether the Twins were “psyched out” by the Yankees. Hunter’s response raises eyebrows:

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 [sic] called on a young righty-hitting Lew Ford to bat against Rivera, and Hunter recalled Ford turning down the pinch-hit assignment. 

"You need a righty hitter against Rivera with his cutter,'' Hunter recalled. But according to Hunter, Ford shook his head no. So Gardenhoire [sic] turned to another kid, Jason Kubel, a lefthanded hitter, who Hunter recalled getting jammed. "Kubel wasn't afraid, but he's a lefty hitter,'' Hunter said.

Hunter’s story serves as a revelation and damning indictment on the Twins’ mental state, except for one little thing—the events as he describes them never happened. Yes, the Yankees and Twins met in the 2004 playoffs, and yes Kubel did appear in two of those games (Games Two and Four) where he did face Rivera at one point. Beyond those facts, Hunter’s gospel turns into apocrypha.

If you start with the game Kubel pinch-hit in, Game Four, then the first inaccuracy worth noting is that Kubel comes in to face Tom Gordon, not Rivera. One could forgive Hunter for mixing up his 2004 Yankees late-inning options, but he states that the tying run was on third base with one out and that Ford refused to enter. In reality, the bases were empty with two outs and Ford couldn’t have refused to enter the game because he had started the game. Whether Gordon jammed Kubel isn’t as clear, but Kubel doubled either way.

In Kubel’s other appearance, he started at designated hitter. This is the game where Kubel faced Rivera with a runner on third (and an unmentioned runner at second) with one out. But the Yankees were not up by one. In fact, Hunter himself had crossed the plate to score the game-tying run on the previous play. One other thing: Rivera did not jam Kubel. Not unless Hunter’s definition of jamming includes a called strike and two whiffs.

This isn’t meant to rag on Hunter. The scene he described to Heyman may have occurred in Game Two, and the Yankees may have intimidated the Twins to the point where Minnesota’s on-the-field failures became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Myriad factual inaccuracies just make it difficult to take Hunter’s memory at face value, especially when the truth is so easily verifiable nowadays.  


Twins-Yankees Game Two Game Log

Twins-Yankees Game Four Game Log

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Further facts: Rivera faced four pinch-hitters in that era against Minnesota: Jose Offerman (switch) twice, Lew Ford (!) once, and Matt LeCroy once. In the two games in which Offerman and LeCroy pinch-hit, Ford was a starter and thus unavailable to chicken out. (Maybe that's why Ford waved Gardenhire off! "I'm already in the lineup, coach, c'mon.")

Maybe Gardenhire left in a lefty hitter when he didn't want to because a righty PH waved him off? That's harder to check. I plan to do it, but if anyone beats me to it, I'd hardly complain.
We need to be able to +1 (but not -1, never ever -1) BP authors' comments. I just love so much the image of Gardenhire trying to pinch-hit with a player he forgets is already in the game.
Ok, following up. Mariano Rivera faced the following lefties in the six games he pitched against Minnesota in 2003 and 2004.

10/2/03, Doug Mientkiewicz (top 8, 4-1 NYY, nobody on, nobody out)
10/2/03, Jacque Jones (top 8, 4-1 NYY, nobody on, two out)
10/2/03, Corey Koskie (top 9, 4-1 NYY, nobody on, one out)
10/2/03, A.J. Piezynski (top 9, 4-1 NYY, nobody on, two out)
(Lew Ford was available on the bench for these at-bats)

10/4/03, Denny Hocking (S) pinch-hit for by Lew Ford (b8, 3-1 NYY, nobody on, one out)
10/4/03, Doug Mientkiewicz (b8, 3-1 NYY, nobody on, two out)
10/4/03, Jacque Jones (b9, 3-1 NYY, nobody on, one out)
(Ford was used for Hocking and was thus unavailable for the other two)

10/5/04, Justin Morneau (t9, 2-0 MIN, nobody on, nobody out)
10/5/04, Corey Koskie (t9, 2-0 MIN, nobody on, one out)
(Lew Ford started this game)

10/6/04, Justin Morneau (t8, 5-3 NYY, first and second, one out)
10/6/04, Corey Koskie (t8, 5-4 NYY, first and third, one out)
10/6/04, Jason Kubel (t8, 5-5, second and third, one out)
10/6/04, Cristian Guzman (S) (t8, 5-5, second and third, two out)
(Lew Ford was on the bench)

10/8/04, Jose Offerman (S) as PH (b9, 8-2 NYY, loaded, nobody out)
10/8/04, Jacque Jones (b9, 8-4 NYY, third, two out)
(Lew Ford started this game)

10/9/04, Corey Koskie (b10, 5-5, nobody on, nobody out)
10/9/04, Cristian Guzman (S) (b10, 5-5, nobody on, two out)
10/9/04, Jose Offerman (S) as PH (b11, 6-5 NYY, nobody on, nobody out)
(Lew Ford started this game)

The Kubel situation that R.J. describes above, then, has to be the one that Hunter was thinking of, and he forgot the outcome. The only other truly tight game that Rivera was involved in was 10/9/04, and the Twins never got a man on base with a lefty hitting.

I suppose it's possible that Ford refused to hit for Kubel in that situation, but given how many details Hunter expressed such confidence in (per Jon Heyman, anyway), one would certainly be justified in doubting the veracity of the entire story.
As I pointed out a few weeks ago (, this wouldn't be the first time Torii misremembered Twins history:
Interesting stuff. Thanks for looking it all up. :-)
I think you're reading to much into this. When you factor in the way the the brain assimilates and stores information, the number of games Hunter played vs. the Yankess, and Mariano, it's easy to imagine that this "event" that Hunter remembers is his brain subconciously combining several moments and even thoughts into a moment that seems "real" to Hunter but actually isn't.

It's something we all do but obviously aren't aware of it, but we don't usually have fact-checkers looking to prove or disprove our false memory.
"Reading (too) much into this" how?? What's the excess stuff that you see being read into it?
Exactly. All the reading-in seems to be done by johnsamo- RJ specifically says "This isn’t meant to rag on Hunter." You might debate what all this says about the interviewer, but I don't think there's any real commentary on the interviewee.