Two swings bury past

Sunday, October 18, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Tito Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch went from goats to heroes.
(AP photo)

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NEW YORK -- All is forgiven. The past is history. Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez have left all their baggage behind and made their way home as conquering heroes.

They have come through when it counted most, and in a single night atoned for a month of sustained misery. They have redeemed themselves on baseball's biggest stage, reversing a World Series opener spinning out of control.

The rampaging New York Yankees came off the ropes Saturday night to beat the San Diego Padres, 9-6, and the outstanding blows were delivered by erstwhile outcasts. Knoblauch tied the game with a three-run homer and Martinez broke it open with a grand slam, scripting a seventh-inning comeback story to make the hard-boiled Bronx all blubbery.

Knoblauch, whose egregious mental lapse had helped cost the Yankees a playoff game and spawned a series of hard-to-live-down headlines, regained his reputation with a blast into the lower seats in left field.

Martinez, whose postseason production has been so feeble that Yankee manager Joe Torre was considering a lineup change, secured his spot by blasting a Mark Langston fastball into the upper deck in right with the bases full, one pitch after Langston thought he had escaped with a strikeout.

One of these days . . .

"I've been trying to tell myself to take it day by day," Martinez said. "I knew one of these days I'd eventually get a big hit to help the team win . . . It's definitely a relief."

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from Associated Press
Baseball's scales of justice do not always balance -- consider the case of Bill Buckner, or the fate of Ernie Banks -- but the game almost always affords another opportunity to the down and desperate. A year ago, San Diego slugger Greg Vaughn was among the most unwanted men in the sport. Traded to the Yankees in mid-summer, he was sent back a day later as damaged goods. Made available in each round of the expansion draft, he was repeatedly passed over by both Arizona and Tampa Bay.

But for six innings Saturday, Vaughn was responsible for the redemption angle. He followed his 50-home run season with a pair of epic blasts -- the first a liner to right-center that tied the game at 2-2; the second a solo shot into the left-field seats -- to help stake San Diego to a 5-2 lead.

That it didn't last was largely due to the early exit of Padres starter Kevin Brown and the soft underbelly of the San Diego bullpen. Before he could entrust his lead to closer Trevor Hoffman, Padres manager Bruce Bochy was compelled to call on Donne Wall and Langston. They might as well have been pitching batting practice.

Brown left the game with two on and one out in the seventh, and the first batter Wall would face was Knoblauch. His first two pitches were balls, putting Knoblauch in position to pounce.

"I had a pretty good feeling," Knoblauch said. "When it left my bat, I thought it had a chance. I got a little worried when I saw Vaughn jump up on the wall . . . If you play baseball, it's a roller-coaster ride."

Before the game, Knoblauch and Martinez had taken extra batting practice together, each man trying to urge the other to break out of his postseason hitting slump. Knoblauch was 5-for-32 in the playoffs when he went to work against Wall. Martinez was 7-for-39 when he lit up Langston.

"We know we've been struggling together," Martinez said. "When he hit his home run, I ran out there as fast as I could and said, "That's it, you're going to have a great postseason now.' "

Martinez' home run gave the Yankees a 9-5 lead, and left the Padres to wonder about what might have been. Before he slammed Langston's full-count fastball into the seats, Martinez took a borderline-low 2-2 pitch down the middle of the plate that might easily have been called strike three.

By such small margins are ballgames decided. But once reprieved, a man must still produce.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE