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Hrbek Wins Game of Gamesmanship : Key play: Did he pull Gant's leg off first base? Not him, says Twin first baseman after he gets out that ended Braves' third.

October 21, 1991|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — It looked like something Kent Hrbek learned while watching his beloved World Wrestling Federation on television. There was only one thing missing.

"There was no body slam," said the Atlanta Braves' Jeff Treadway. "We were waiting for the body slam."

In a play that offered everything found in pro wrestling--minus, perhaps, a cage--Hrbek moved into World Series lore Sunday by moving the Braves' Ron Gant off first base.

That way, it was easier to tag him out, which Hrbek did to end the third inning during his Minnesota Twins' 3-2 victory in Game 2.

This would have been just another late-night mugging of an unsuspecting visitor by a local guy built like a silo, except it might have cost the Braves the game.

"It was huge," losing pitcher Tom Glavine said, referring to the play, not Hrbek.

With two out in the third inning and the Braves trailing, 2-1, Gant singled to left field, moving Lonnie Smith to third.

Dan Gladden, the Twins' left fielder, threw the ball to the infield. It bounced away but was retrieved by pitcher Kevin Tapani, who noticed that Gant had taken a big turn around first. Tapani threw the ball to Hrbek, who tagged Gant's right leg after Gant had reached the base.

Hrbek did not walk off the base in frustration or return the ball to the pitcher in resignation. He did not do any of the other things players normally do when the conventional methods of throwing out a runner do not work.

Hrbek simply wrapped his arms around Gant's right leg and pulled.

It is important to note that Hrbek weighs about 253 pounds, and Gant weighs about 172 pounds.

"About twice my size," Gant confirmed.

Hrbek picked up the leg as the players stumbled backward, and Gant was ruled out as soon as the leg left the base.

Gant was then lucky he was not thrown out, after he bounced his helmet off the artificial turf and screamed in umpire Drew Coble's face. He was eventually escorted by teammates toward center field.

The inning had ended with David Justice, who had earlier singled, standing at home plate.

"We could have had runners on first and third with David coming up. . . . Then bang-bang, the inning is over," Glavine lamented.

"It changed quite a few things," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said.

Coble said it was a matter of momentum. The Braves said it was a case of cheating.

Hrbek smiled.

"I didn't get away with anything," he said. "I just kept my glove on his leg, and his leg came off the base."

And if you did pull him off the base, would you admit it?

"Sure, I would admit it," Hrbek said.

Coble, an American League umpire, said Gant was falling over his feet.

"(Gant) lunged into the bag," he said. "His momentum was carrying him toward the first base dugout. When he did that, he began to switch feet. He tried to pick up one foot and bring the other one down.

"That just carried him more to the first base dugout. Hrbek took the throw low and tried to tag him as his feet were coming up, too. As he did that, (Gant) just went over the top of him."

Concluded Coble: "In my judgment, (Gant's) momentum carried him over the top of Hrbek."

Coble may have sounded certain about it after the game, but a couple of innings after the play, he asked Atlanta first base coach Pat Corrales what he thought about the call.

"I said, '(Hrbek) pulled him off the base,' " Corrales said. "(Coble) didn't say anything."

Corrales had one of the nicer opinions about the play.

"I was clearly on the base. Everyone knew it. I don't know since when you can start pulling guys off the base like that," said Gant, who went hitless in two at-bats with runners on base after the incident. "The officiating here has got to be better than that."

While Coble may have had a good view of the play, Gant said he felt it.

"It was so obvious, I could not believe it," Gant said. "I felt the full force of him picking me up."

The Braves said they were not mad at Hrbek. In an odd sort of way, they actually admired his initiative.

"On the field I told him, 'I don't blame you, you got away with it,' " Corrales said. "The guy was playing good, hard baseball the way it's supposed to be played."

Sid Bream, the Braves' first baseman, admitted that he has done the same thing before.

"I did it to Vince Coleman a couple of years ago," Bream said proudly. "He was coming back on a pickoff, and I put the tag on and kept it on while knocking him off the bag. Umpire called him out, too.

"The hardest thing about that play is to decoy it so the umpire doesn't know what you are doing. You can only exert so much effort without it becoming obvious."

Hrbek smiled.

" I was falling off the base," he said.

Then he smiled again.

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