Infielders' decoy takes Braves out of running

October 28, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

MINNEAPOLIS .. — MINNEAPOLIS -- In a World Series that produced so many memorable plays, it is somewhat ironic that not even the principals can agree on the one that may have decided Game 7 here last night.

Both managers, Bobby Cox of Atlanta and Tom Kelly of Minnesota, said they not only didn't think Lonnie Smith was decoyed on a play in the eighth inning, but that he wasn't running on the pitch when Terry Pendleton doubled to left-centerfield.

However, both of the Twins' middle infielders, second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and shortstop Greg Gagne, insisted both accounts were wrong. Smith, the only person who really knows, was not available for questions after Minnesota's 1-0 win over the Braves in 10 innings last night.

"He wasn't running, so how could he be decoyed?" Cox asked when the play was brought up. "Why he held up, I don't know."

Smith had reached second base before Pendleton's ball bounced off the plexiglass wall, and was still in the vicinity when centerfielder Kirby Puckett fielded the ball. On the play, Knoblauch and Gagne very obviously appeared to be going through fielding motions as Smith approached second base.

"That's my first instinct on a play like that, to try and 'deke' them," said Knoblauch, wise beyond his rookie year. "We do it all the time. We pretend like we're turning a double play. We worked it three or four times this year."

As he was answering questions, Knoblauch called Gagne into the conversation to verify his version. "He [Smith] didn't get a great jump, but he was definitely running on the play," said Gagne.

"I stood at second base like I was waiting for a throw.He obviously didn't know where the ball was. He was still standing FTC at second base when it hit the wall."

Smith then realized his mistake and turned toward third, but now had no chance of scoring. Twins pitcher Jack Morris then got Ron Gant to ground out to first, then intentionally walked David Justice to load the bases. Sid Bream ended the threat by bouncing into a double-play, first to second and back to first.

Pendleton said he had no doubt that Smith would have scored on the hit if he had run hard all the way.

When Kelly was asked about the play, he said he thought Smith lost the flight of the ball, but later admitted he wasn't watching his infielders. "Was he running?" Kelly asked. "I didn't think he was running and I don't think you can decoy a runner if he's not running on the pitch."

But when Kelly was asked if he had seen Knoblauch pretend to field the ball, he admitted that he hadn't. "I was watching the ball," he said. "So I don't know what they were doing."

Knoblauch was insistent that he and Gagne had carried out their routine around second base -- and that it was a decoy that worked. "It worked almost to perfection," said the second baseman. "The only thing he didn't do was slide. That's the way it's supposed to work -- the runner slides, you make the catch and double him off first.

"Luckily, he stood there, even though the ball bounced off the wall," said Knoblauch. "He had no idea where the ball was."

Gagne said he was in the same situation as Smith -- he didn't see the ball. "When he stopped I had to go out to leftfield [to handle a relay throw]," said the shortstop, "and I couldn't see the ball either.

"I definitely think if he [Smith] had seen the ball, he would have scored easily," said Gagne.

The play became magnified when the Braves failed to score after having runners at second and third and nobody out. When the Twins didn't score until the 10th inning, which wouldn't have been necessary had Smith scored, the potential run that wasn't became the favorite topic of post-game discussion.

"I don't know what happened," said Morris. "I saw him [Smith] hesitate, but I wasn't looking at the infielders, I was watching the outfielders."

About the only thing clear about the play was that Smith obviously did not see the ball. What is unclear is why he didn't see it.

Knoblauch and Gagne are convinced their phantom act around second base was the reason.

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