Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Yanks' power is element of surprise




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — Chuck Knoblauch makes you cringe. He can turn a routine grounder into a high-wire act. When he has time, he throws the ball as if trying to put a bean bag through a clown's mouth. When he must hurry, he's as likely to throw the ball into the stands or the dugout as into the first baseman's mitt.

        You wonder how he keeps his job until you watch him hit.

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        Chad Curtis makes you scratch your head. He is a part-time left fielder who spent the 1998 World Series as a spectator. He hit five home runs during the 1999 season — only one of them after the All-Star break — and he spends most nights taking up space in the dugout.

        You wonder how he keeps his job. Then, all of a sudden, he turns into Babe Ruth.

        Tuesday night, for the second straight year, Knoblauch knotted a World Series game the Yankees would win later. Curtis hit two of them, including the 10th-inning shot that gave the defending world champions a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Chad who?
        Curtis was in the lineup only because the Braves started left-hander Tom Glavine. He probably will be on the bench tonight when the Yankees go for the series sweep against John Smoltz.

        “Both home runs I hit, I was trying to hold myself back a little bit,” Curtis said. “I have a tendency to get hyped up and try to do too much and I was trying to fight that. I think when you take that approach, you get yourself into a better position.”

        These Yankees are not to be confused with Murderer's Row. In an era of unprecedented power, they are a team that manager Joe Torre says prefers the jab to the knockout punch. They win with walks and singles and with home runs from peculiar places. Tuesday's triumph was their 11th straight in World Series competition and five of them have involved comebacks in the seventh inning or later.

        Chuck Knoblauch? Chad Curtis? Maybe it's fate.

        “I was amazed when (Curtis) was standing by the other players how short he is and how powerful he is, too,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Somebody asked me about who would be the star in the series. It's always somebody you don't expect.”

When you least suspect it
        Until Knoblauch's eighth-inning homer, Tuesday's game was about what you might expect. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine returned to the Atlanta rotation following a bout with the flu and finished seven efficient inning with a 5-3 lead.

        But though Cox had said before the game he wanted seven innings from his starter, Glavine had thrown only 72 pitches to that point and was sent back out for the eighth. Yankees catcher Joe Girardi led off with a single to right field and Glavine then fell behind Knoblauch, two balls and no strikes. Knoblauch poked Glavine's next pitch on a high arc toward the wall in right field.

        Atlanta outfielder Brian Jordan, who earlier had contributed to the Yankee cause by dropping Knoblauch's first-inning fly, reached over the fence and got his glove on the ball. But again, Jordan couldn't hold on, and the ball dropped into the stands.

        “I was hoping it would get further in the seats,” Knoblauch said. “I know Jordan is a tremendous athlete and a great outfielder ... Luckily, it bounced the right way.”

        Cox called it a “Yankee Stadium home run,” a 315-foot pop fly that would not have escaped any other big-league ballpark.

        “I'm glad,” Knoblauch said, “I hit it in Yankee Stadium.”

        Torre generally prefers Knoblauch to hit line drives, but the scatter-armed second baseman has a knack for the timely homer. He tied Game1 of the 1998 World Series with a three-run homer in the seventh inning, perhaps the biggest blow of the Yankees' sweep of San Diego.

        “I never go up to the plate trying to hit a home run,” Knoblauch said. “I try to put a good swing on it and hopefully hit something solid.”

        Hit enough and your defense doesn't matter so much.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your emali at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE