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Recent umpiring controversies highlight Yankees' luck with umpiring in the dynasty years

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It takes some serious baseball talent to make it to the playoffs, but championship teams often need a little fortune to succeed.

Never say "Jeffrey Maier" to an O's fan.
Never say "Jeffrey Maier" to an O's fan.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Umpires have come under scrutiny lately for some suspect calls in the early stages of the 2015 playoffs, most notably in Game 2 of the NLDS. The Dodgers beat the Mets in great part due to Chase Utley being ruled safe at second base on review of a play where he also broke Ruben Tejada's leg. Had that call not been made, the Mets might already be sitting at home waiting for the Cubs to arrive for the NLCS rather than flying to Los Angeles for a do-or-die Game 5 on the road against Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke.

The controversy brings to mind other infamously botched postseason calls, like Don Denkinger in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series and the bizarre "infield" fly from the 2012 NL Wild Card game. The most recent Yankees championship teams were also the lucky ones on the end of some ugly mistakes by the umpiring crews. The errors were an underrated part of the Yankees' dynasty, and had they been called correctly, it's unclear whether or not they would have wound up with five World Series titles in the past 20 years. Although they deserve credit for capitalizing on the gifts, simple fortune can be pivotal to championships, and these teams certainly had Lady Luck on their side.

1996

Orioles fans will long revile the name "Jeffrey Maier." After a tight race for the AL East division title, the Yankees and O's ended up squaring off in the ALCS, and the first game was a doozy. Baltimore nursed a 4-2 lead over Andy Pettitte into the seventh, where their relief pitching allowed a two-out bases loaded walk to Darryl Strawberry. Yankee nemesis Armando Benitez managed to preserve the one-run advantage by striking out Mariano Duncan, but then the eighth inning happened.

After fanning Jim Leyritz, Benitez faced the Rookie of the Year, Derek Jeter. The shortstop lifted a long fly ball toward the short porch in right field, where a 12-year-old fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall above outfielder Tony Tarasco's outstretched glove to bring Jeter's drive into the stands. Umpire Richie Garcia ruled it a home run rather than interference, and the Orioles went berserk. It was immediately obvious that Garcia blew the call, but with no instant replay, what was done was done. Two innings later, Bernie Williams ended the night on a "mighty high, mighty far" drive to left that finished Game 1 in style. The Yankees went on to take the ALCS in five games. Had the Orioles secured Game 1 and then won Game 2 as they did, that series could have been quite different.

1998

Tino 1998 blown call

The opener of the 1998 World Series was the closest the Padres ever got to seizing any kind of advantage on the 114-win juggernaut Yankees. They were understandably heavy underdogs, but thanks to two Greg Vaughn homers and a surprising blast from Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, they carried a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning. With one out, ace Kevin Brown allowed an infield single and a walk, leading manager Bruce Bochy to remove him after 106 pitches. Chuck Knobluach greeted reliever Donne Wall with a game-tying three-run homer to left, and the ballgame was tied.

Neither Wall nor Mark Langston had much command that night, and soon, the bases were loaded with two outs for Tino Martinez. The power-hitting first baseman worked the count to 2-2, and then took a Langston pitch that seemed to catch the plate with relative ease. Enter old friend Richie Garcia, who was behind the plate that night. Garcia inexplicably called it a ball (with help from some awful framing by catcher Carlos Hernandez), and Martinez jumped on the error by launching Langston's next pitch to the upper deck for a stadium-shaking grand slam. The Yankees won, 9-6, and never looked back, sweeping San Diego away.

1999

1999 was a historic year, as it marked the first time that the Yankees and Red Sox actually squared off in postseason play. Like in '96, the Yankees received an assist from the officials against a division rival, as in the tenth inning, second base umpire Rick Reed ruled that Chuck Knoblauch maintained control of a relay throw that he dropped at second base. The baserunner Jose Offerman was called out, and the subsequent Brian Daubach double play ended the inning. It was soon "déjà vu all over again," as another Bernie Williams walk-off ended a disputed ALCS opener.

Four days later, Knoblauch and Offerman's paths crossed again. The Yankees had a 2-1 lead in the series, but they had lost Game 3 in a blowout and only led 3-2 with Offerman at first and one out in the eighth. Mariano Rivera had just entered the game in relief of Pettitte, and he induced a slow ground ball from John Valentin toward Knoblauch at second. As Offerman crossed in front of him, Knoblauch moved his glove toward him, though he never made contact, then threw to first base for the out. It was ruled a double play since second base umpire Tim Tschida ruled that Offerman ran out of the baseline. The call baffled the Fenway Faithful, and in the next half-inning, the Yankees' offense blew up the game to secure a Game 4 win. They won the series the next day.

2009

For the most part, the Yankees' 2000 World Series title was controversy-free, but when Jeter and company broke their mini-drought nine years later, there was double the fun. In the second game of the playoffs, the Yankees and Twins were locked in a 3-3 tie thanks to a dramatic game-tying homer by Alex Rodriguez off Joe Nathan. MVP Joe Mauer led off the 11th for the Twins and laced a drive down the left field line, out of Melky Cabrera's reach. It was quite obviously a fair ball. For some reason, right field umpire Phil Cuzzi, standing right in front of the play, botched the call and ruled it foul. The at-bat continued and Mauer singled, leading to a bases-loaded, no one out situation. To young David Robertson's credit, he earned the nickname "Houdini" by wiggling out of it without any runs scoring, but had Mauer doubled rather than singled, it might have been a different story. Mark Teixeira led off the bottom of the 11th with a walk-off missile down the left field line, and it was all over. The Yankees swept the series, and then faced the Angels in the ALCS.

By Game 4 in Anaheim, the Yankees held a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven. Second base umpire Dale Scott and third base umpire Tim McClelland set the pace for this weird contest, first by jobbing the Angels out of a pick-off of Nick Swisher at second base, and then by costing the Yankees that gift run two batters later when McClelland incorrectly called Swisher out for leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly.

McClelland wasn't finished. In the fifth, Swisher hit a comebacker to pitcher Darren Oliver with Robinson Cano on second and Jorge Posada on third base. Oliver threw to catcher Mike Napoli, who chased Posada in the rundown, and then tagged both Cano and Posada standing off third base for an apparent double play. Astonishingly, McClelland called Posada out but ruled Cano safe. He was literally right in front of them:

2009 blown call

Those championship Yankees teams were terrific, but a little luck certainly gave them some big assists.