BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CLEVELAND -- Chuck Knoblauch has seen the error of his ways. How could he not? If he's quick with a remote control, he could have seen it a hundred times by now.
While Chuck Knoblauch argued with umpires ...
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The second baseman of the New York Yankees -- CHUCK BRAINLAUCH according to the New York Post -- watched the replay of Wednesday's monstrous mental lapse and came away convinced he had been too soft on himself. He came to realize that the time to debate an umpire's decision is not when the ball is still in play.
"We got into town last night," Knoblauch said Thursday afternoon, "and I got a chance to see it for the first time, and it definitely gave me a different feel for it. You know, I screwed up. I screwed up the play, and I feel terrible about that. . . . I need to apologize to my teammates and my manager and the Yankees and all the Yankee fans. Basically, I screwed up the play."
... Enrique Wilson ran around the bases.
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Knoblauch issued his mea culpa less than 24 hours after taking the puzzling position of "What, Me Worry?" on a play no White House lawyer would attempt to justify. Covering first base on Travis Fryman's fateful bunt play in Game Two of the American League Championship Series, Knoblauch inexplicably stood his ground when he should have been chasing Tino Martinez' errant throw.
Knoblauch continued arguing with umpire Ted Hendry as Cleveland's Enrique Wilson staggered around the bases with the go-ahead run, oblivious to the ball rolling behind him, heedless of the harm he was doing by doing nothing in the 12th inning of a game the Indians won, 4-1.
"He overreacted to the umpire," said Yankee manager Joe Torre, "and underreacted to the ball."
Curiously, Knoblauch's initial reaction indicated that he viewed his vapor lock as a non-issue, despite its dire consequences. He was knee-deep in denial Wednesday, up to his eyeballs in excuses, and as completely out of touch as J.D. Salinger.
"If I had it to do all over again," he said, stubbornly, "I'd do the same thing."
Yet upon his arrival in Cleveland late Wednesday night, in the privacy of his hotel room, Chuck Knoblauch flipped on the TV and flopped his story. He saw for the first time what had been obvious to every sensible soul at Yankee Stadium -- that in the heat of the moment, he had frozen.
"I had a pretty good feeling when a guy scores from first that should never happen on a play like that," Knoblauch said. "But to see it on TV, you can see where the ball goes, which I didn't know (at the time). On TV, it almost seems like time stands still. And the ball is rolling behind me. It just gave me a different perspective. When the play's actually happening, it's a little bit different than afterward or on the outside looking in."
From the outside looking in, Chuck Knoblauch appears to be studying for the role of scapegoat. He is 2-for-22 for the post-season (an .091 batting average) and has had one dubious defensive play in four of the Yankees' five playoff games. He has shown an erratic arm this season, and a troubling tendency to hit fly balls when his job description demands line drives.
Tim for redemption
Before the ALCS, a columnist suggested October represented Knoblauch's opportunity for redemption.
"Right now, in these feel-good times, Knoblauch is the one Yankee emitting a negative mojo," wrote Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
Wednesday night, Knoblauch's mojo was downright deplorable. When he came to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning, Yankee fans accorded Knoblauch the kind of reception they usually reserve for the Red Sox.
"I was embarrassed for New York to see a player booed in the playoffs after the year we've had," Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill said Thursday. "Nobody in the dugout blames Chuck Knoblauch for us losing yesterday. We had so many chances to win that game earlier." The Yankees were quick to forgive Knoblauch's faux pas, slow as he was to admit it. An error is more easily excused than it is concealed.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.