The emery board was made for fingernails, not knuckles or knuckleballs or any type of baseball. So when one popped out of the back pocket of Minnesota Twins' pitcher Joe Niekro during the fourth inning of Monday night's 11-3 Angel loss, Niekro soon found himself out of the game.
After the third pitch Niekro delivered to Brian Downing in the bottom of the fourth, home plate umpire Tim Tschida stopped play and ordered Niekro frisked. Tschida had Niekro pull out all of his pants pockets and with 33,983 fans at Anaheim Stadium looking on, there Niekro stood, looking like a penniless pauper.
He had enough money to invest in an emery board, however. The umpiring crew discovered it during the search, resting on the infield grass.
Niekro had tried to slicker Tschida and Co., pulling out his back pockets with one motion, bringing both arms over his head and--\o7 flick!\f7 --discreetly dumping the file on the ground.
It was a nice try, and it looked so s-m-o-o-t-h on instant replay, but Niekro couldn't fool the umpires this time. They picked up the board and classified it "a foreign object." They grabbed the baseball, and five others, and stuffed them into a plastic bag, to be dispatched today to the office of American League president Bobby Brown.
Then, they dispatched Niekro. The ejection, according to major league rules, carries an automatic 10-day suspension.
Also uncovered in the search was a piece of sandpaper.
"I'll be honest with you, I always carry two things out there with me," Niekro said. "An emery board and a small piece of sandpaper. I've done that ever since I started throwing the knuckleball.
"Being a knuckleball pitcher, I sometimes have to file my nails between innings. So I carry an emery board with me to the mound."
And the sandpaper?
"Sometimes I sweat a lot and the emery board gets wet," Niekro said. "I use the other as a (backup)."
Angel Manager Gene Mauch, however, claimed Niekro did more with file and sandpaper than manicure his nails.
"Those balls weren't roughed up," Mauch said. "Those balls were borderline mutilated."
Mauch said he didn't ask Tschida to inspect the baseballs, that the umpires did so on their own.
He said he wasn't surprised by what the umpires found.
"Nobody ever suspected Joe Niekro (of scuffing the ball)," Mauch said. "Everybody always \o7 knew\f7 it."
Mauch never protested the game and doubted if the league would order the game replayed. "It never entered my mind," he said. "Even if I had suggested it, I don't think that is grounds for a protest."
Niekro's ejection appeared to be a considerable break for the Angels, who traditionally come up numb against knuckleball pitchers. The game was tied, 2-2, at the time and 13-game winner Mike Witt was pitching for the Angels. The first round of this first significant series of August seemed ready to go to California.
But later in the same inning, the Angels lost Devon White to injury when he reaggravated a strained arch in his left foot. Minutes after Niekro left the game, White did, too.
Mauch didn't like the trade off.
"That's gonna take a while," Mauch said of White's injury. "He first hurt it in Boston, running in the outfield. Then he really hurt it running the bases in Oakland. Finally, it got to the point where he couldn't run on it.
"The trainers say the sheath is inflamed. They say rest will take care of it."
Then came the sixth inning. More bad news more the Angels.
Witt hit the wall in the sixth, receiving a little push from behind by his defense. Second baseman Mark McLemore began the inning by botching a ground ball by Kent Hrbek. Singles by Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky loaded the bases.
Witt then walked designated hitter Gene Larkin to force home one run. One out later, Sal Butera hit a sacrifice line drive to left, deep enough to score Gaetti from third base.
In the bottom of the inning, Downing delivered his 20th home run of the season to cut the Angels' deficit to 4-3. But in the top of the seventh, Witt and the defense continued to stumbled.
Witt never saw the end of the inning as the Angels fell behind, 8-3.
A fielding miscue unraveled things again for the Angels. Minnesota's Greg Gagne led off with a pop fly to shallow left-center. Downing was playing left. Gary Pettis was playing center after replacing White.
Downing and Pettis collided twice on similar plays last season, once so violently that Pettis was knocked out of the lineup for several days. Maybe they heard footsteps. Maybe they had a flashback. Whatever, they let the ball drop.
Pettis pulled up just before impact, allowing the ball to bounce over his head. By the time the ball was retrieved and relayed to the infield, Gagne was on third, credited with a triple.
One out later, Mauch called for an intentional walk to Hrbek. One out after that, Brunansky singled to center, scoring Gagne and leading the Witt's departure.