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Defense Rests And Indians Get Judgement

Someone on a team that won 114 games should know that you don't quit in the middle of a play.

October 08, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

NEW YORK — Play until you hear the whistle. Work until you hear the bell. Run until someone tells you to stop.

As life changes, wonderfully reliable baseball constantly reminds us which of life's rules do not.

It did it again Wednesday. Did it ever. On national TV, in this country's biggest city, on its most legendary ballfield, filled with fans of its most historic franchise.

Everyone watching the second baseman for the New York Yankees quit.

Then listening to them blame it on somebody else.

A nice lesson for us, a shameful one for the Bronx Babies, who lost a playoff game and a heap of respect during the Cleveland Indians' 4-1 victory in Game 2 of the American League championship series.

The facts are simple.

The game turned in the 12th inning when the Indians' Enrique Wilson scored the go-ahead run from first base on a bunt.

He scored because the Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch was busy arguing that bunter Travis Fryman should have been called out for running inside the baseline after the throw from Tino Martinez hit him in the back and rolled into the dirt behind first base.

Too busy to arguing to pick up the darn ball out of the darn dirt and throw the darn thing to somebody who might tag Wilson out.

All of it, simple.

It is in the interpretation of the facts that things get as discolored as that poor ball.

The average youngster watching at home might have looked up at Mom and Dad and said, "You know, even though it looked like a bad call, you never quit in the middle of the play like that to argue about it."

The Yankees preferred something along the lines of, "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

Knoblauch shouted and gestured at home plate umpire Ted Hendry while the ball sat behind his feet.

Then afterward, the finger pointing really began.

Sure, Knoblauch made a mistake, the Yankees said. But, you see, it wasn't really his fault. If the umpire makes the right call, none of this happens. If the umpire would have made one right call the entire day . . .

And blah, blah, blah.

First, this from Torre:

"It was a terrible call," he said. "Yeah, [Knoblauch] was yelling at the ump, you can't do that. But he was just shocked they didn't make the call."

Then there was this from George Steinbrenner:

"It's too bad a great game should be decided by a bad call like that," the Yankee owner said. "He should have chased the ball but we're under a lot of pressure. We're under fire. I understand."

Then--are you sitting down?--there was this from Knoblauch:

"If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing," he said. "I was dumbfounded that he was not called out. I still thought we had a chance of that happening."

Finally, Knoblauch said this:

"I didn't know where the ball was. I didn't really know where it went."

Losing a ball happens to lots of players on lots of days.

But aren't they paying you $6 million a year to like, uh, look for it?

For a team that has shown nothing but composure and courage during a season when they have symbolized professionalism, the only thing more amazing than the question is the need to ask it.

As day turned to night, and Yankee domination turned to embarrassment, and a predicted series sweep became a 1-all tie, this is how bad it became:

The only people making sense were Yankee fans.

When Knoblauch came to the plate at the bottom of the 12th, after the Indians added two more runs on Kenny Lofton's two-run single, he was booed worse than any Indian this series.

He was booed by people who obviously stuck around just to boo him, because they headed for the exits when he reached first base after Fryman muffed his line drive.

He was booed even worse than the vendors when they shut down the beer.

"If they're all against me, fine," Knoblauch said. "They probably had no idea what happened."

It's the other way around, of course.

Was it a bad call?

Yes, every replay shows that Fryman was running illegally on the grass instead of in the three-foot dirt area outside the foul line. Even Steve Palermo, former top umpire who is now a major league consultant, said he would have called Fryman out.

Had Hendry been making terrible calls the entire afternoon?

Yes, including 11 called third strikes on some of the best hitters in baseball, with a strike zone that varied with each hitter.

But even the most obnoxious, uninformed lout--even one who should have earlier written here that it is the number 4 train instead of the number 6 train that goes to Yankee Stadium--understands one thing:

It's not about the call, it's about the ball. It's always about the ball.

"You keep playing until they call timeout," said Omar Vizquel, Indian shortstop.

The most simple fact of all.

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