Ray Knight had hoped to give third base a good heave, but his arm just wasn't up to it. When he pulled the bag from its moorings Saturday afternoon, the Reds manager was determined to express dissent but unsure about achieving distance.
''I started to throw it a long way,'' Knight recalled, ''and I thought, 'No, I don't think I could throw it as far as Lou Piniella did.' So I just tried to throw it right back in the hole.''
Knight recognized his limitations Saturday and revealed an ability to improvise. He did not throw third base very far, but he threw it firmly enough to hit the highlights shows. He gave the customers at Cinergy Field something to tell the neighbors about in the course of a 6-2 loss and an increasingly stultifying season. However briefly, he shattered the prevailing boredom that has enveloped his club.
Knight claims his tantrum was not choreographed, merely the result of mounting frustration and righteous anger. He had not placed himself in the third base coaching box to pick fights, but rather to pick up the energy level of his players after an 11-27 start.
Friday, Knight won. Saturday, he lost it.
The Reds were trailing San Diego, 1-0, with one out in the third inning when Curtis Goodwin lined a game-tying single to center field. Deion Sanders, trying to advance from first base to third on the hit, was called out by umpire Jerry Layne.
Television replays were inconclusive, but the play took place directly in front of where Knight was standing, and found Layne occupying a less advantageous vantage point. Sanders slid to the outside of the base, away from Steve Finley's throw, and sent enough dirt flying that it was difficult to tell from a distance whether Archi Cianfrocco's tag was in time or tardy.
From Knight's proximity, however, it was plain.
''I don't go out there (to argue) unless to me it's obvious,'' he said. ''I always ask the coach or the player involved. If they told me it was bang-bang, I go to the umpire and ask, 'How did you see that?' But this time I see (Sanders') foot hit the bag before the glove hit him. And I'm right on top of it. There's no doubt in my mind that he was safe.''
Mighty rivers are more easily reversed than an umpire's judgment call. Yet duty demands that managers make their protests plain as a show of support for their players and on the off chance it might somehow influence some subsequent close call.
''I had no intention of being thrown out of the game,'' Knight said Saturday. ''I didn't curse him (Layne). I didn't do anything but tell him that I thought he was wrong. I kicked the dirt and walked away, and he asked me, 'Do you want to go?' I told him, 'I don't want to go, but if that's what it takes for me to get things right, I'll go.'''
If Layne was baiting Knight to misbehave, he was clearly out of line, in keeping with the umpires union's tactical testiness. The umpires declined comment Saturday afternoon at Cinergy Field, but their report to the National League office could cause some expensive ripples.
In addition to being fined for his ejection, and whatever fallout might follow from throwing the base, Knight said Layne alleged he had been bumped and spit upon by the Cincinnati manager. Of such things are suspensions made.
''I don't know about that,'' Knight said, ''and I don't really give a flip. I don't care. If I bumped him - it was ever so light - he doesn't know what a bump is. I had no intention of bumping him. I may have brushed against him, but my hat never hit his.
''He alleged that I spit on him. I said, 'I wasn't spitting on you.' He said, 'Check out my glasses.' ... With everything I was saying there was a chance of some projectiles coming out.''
Managers are forever pushing the limits of legal confrontation. Earl Weaver customarily began arguments by turning the bill of his cap so that he could get that much closer to an umpire's face without bumping. This is no way for grown men to resolve their disputes, but baseball convention holds that a manager who doesn't get ejected periodically is not standing up for his players.
In a major-league playing career that spanned 13 seasons, Knight can recall being thrown out of only four games. But as a manager, he has already been ejected twice this month. After the last one - May 1 against Atlanta - National League President Len Coleman told Knight his protest had been excessive. He figures to be less tolerant this time.
''Nothing's automatic,'' said National League Vice President Katy Feeney. ''It depends on the situation. There's a difference between an incidental bump and an intentional bump. But bumping's not a good idea.''
And what of throwing bases?
''Also, not a good idea,'' Feeney said.
It was probably a futile exercise unless this protest prompts the Reds to play with more passion. It did not seem to work that way Saturday.
''I don't know what kind of value there is,'' Knight said of the side-effects of ejection. ''All it does is hit your checkbook.''
PADRES 6, REDS 2
NOTEBOOK: GOODWIN A GOOD'N
USA TODAY BASEBALL PAGE