Sunday, October 21, 2001

Yankees fall on their gloves




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        NEW YORK — The defending champions were defenseless. Their fielding was flawed. Their throwing was wild.

        The New York Yankees had a chance to take a stranglehold on the American League Championship Series Saturday afternoon, but they lost their grip, their aim and their aura of invincibility. The Seattle Mariners pounded them, 14-3, and it was even uglier than that.

        Left fielder Chuck Knoblauch failed to squeeze Bret Boone's fifth-inning, bases-loaded bloop, and the Yankees' 2-0 lead evaporated. Yankee relievers Mike Stanton and Mark Wohlers each made errant throws in the sixth and seventh innings to produce three unearned runs. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano was charged with no errors, but twice was guilty of faulty footwork.

        “Obviously, we like to show up every day and play perfect baseball, but it's not possible,” said Yankees designated hitter David Justice. “Today we didn't and we took it on the chin.”<

Influenced choices

        Taken individually, or even collectively, the Yankees' defensive difficulties were not decisive. Yet tighter defense could have kept the game close enough to influence Joe Torre's pitching choices.

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        New York's Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez held a 2-0 lead with one out and one on in the fifth, then sawed off David Bell's bat for what should have been an inning-ending double play.

        Bell hit a soft bouncer back to the mound and Hernandez threw to Soriano at second base for the force play. But the rookie failed to finish the double play, prolonging the inning and facilitating Seattle's rally.

        “I think he had time to throw the ball to first base,” Torre said. “The only problem was he had to reach for the throw and I think that sort of got him off balance a little bit ... I can't really fault him there.”

        Neither did Torre fault Knoblauch for his attempt at Boone's subsequent bases-loaded bloop. He couldn't see it. The Yankees dugout is below field level and consequently a poor vantage point for diving catches. Or, in this case, a diving drop.

Can't hide Chuck

        Knoblauch plays left field now because Torre can no longer bear to watch him play second base. The ball, however, still finds him. Knoblauch broke late on Boone's ball, recovered quickly enough to reach it as he fell to the grass, tried to secure the ball with his right hand as he hit the ground, but lost control as he rolled over and two runs scored.

        “He disappeared when he dived for the ball,” Torre said. “And it sounded like a good result, but then the "Ahhh,' followed the cheers and I knew where we were.”

        Hernandez struck out Edgar Martinez to preserve a 2-2 tie, but John Olerud led off the Seattle sixth with a home run. A single by Stan Javier and a walk by Mike Cameron sent Hernandez to the showers, and Stanton then launched Dan Wilson's bunt attempt down the left-field line to open floodgates only Noah could negotiate. It was 9-2 when the Yankees came to bat. It was all over but the pouting.

        “Joe called on me to get a job done and I pretty much didn't do anything,” Stanton said.

        The Mariners won 116 games during the regular season by playing the best defense in baseball. The Yankees are not quite so sure-handed.

        Saturday, they were sloppy.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



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