Controversy comes to Yankees honestly No-call is reminder of Maier 2 years ago

October 09, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees manager Joe Torre knew he wasn't going to get much sympathy after the Cleveland Indians parlayed a controversial play into a series-squaring victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night. His club has had its share of breaks over the past few years -- most notably a very famous miscall in the first game of their last ALCS appearance.

Twelve-year-old Jeffrey Maier gave them a big assist in 1996, reaching out of the right-field bleachers to snatch a fly ball away from Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco and turn an apparent flyout by shortstop Derek Jeter into a game-tying home run.

Apparently, what goes around really does come around, even if it takes a couple of years to arrive.

Indians third baseman Travis Fryman clearly ran inside the baseline after laying down a sacrifice bunt in the 12th inning of Game 2. That minor transgression created a major controversy when a throw from first baseman Tino Martinez to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch covering first caromed off Fryman's back and rolled toward right field.

By the time Knoblauch decided to go get it -- and he took his sweet time -- pinch runner Enrique Wilson had rounded second and third and was stumbling home with the go-ahead run.

If home plate umpire Ted Hendry had called Fryman out for interference, Wilson would have had to return to first base and the outcome of the game might have been different. Instead, the Indians loaded the bases and Kenny Lofton stroked a two-run single to pad the lead, shifting the home-field advantage in the series to the Indians, who play host in the next three games at Jacobs Field.

The umpires were quick to claim that the call was correct that the fact that Fryman failed to stay in the running lane (marked by parallel chalk lines for the final 45 feet from home to first) didn't matter because he was entitled to enter fair territory to cross the base.

That may be true, but respected former umpire Steve Palermo -- working as a television analyst during the series -- indicated that he probably would have called Fryman out for obstructing the ability of the fielders to complete the play.

The rule book is not crystal clear on this situation. Rule 6.05 states that "A batter is out when (k) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside [to the right of] the three-foot line, or inside [to the left of] the foul line, and in the umpires judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base; except that he may run outside [to the right of] the three-foot line or inside [to the left of] the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball."

Though video replays clearly show that Fryman was inside the foul line all the way to first base, Hendry ruled that he did not materially interfere with Knoblauch's ability to cover first base on the play because the ball hit him just as he was crossing the base. Predictably, Indians manager Mike Hargrove embraced that rationale and Torre did not, but Torre was careful to acknowledge that those kind of things have a way of evening out.

"We've won games that have been in violation [of the rules], too," Torre conceded after Wednesday's game. "It's just when it happens in a game like this, you would have liked for the thing to be clean."

Who wouldn't? The Orioles were so upset with umpire Rich Garcia's no-call on the Jeter home run two years ago that owner Peter Angelos and his staff drew up a legal brief and petitioned American League president Gene Budig to reverse the decision.

It didn't work, of course. Budig would have opened a can of worms bigger than Yankee Stadium if he had ordered the game restarted from the point where Garcia should have ruled Jeter out. The Orioles would go on to lose the best-of-seven series and the Yankees would go on to win the world championship.

There was an interesting symmetry to the way things evened out the other night. Obviously, the Orioles were not around to enjoy the benefits of the controversial play, but they benefited from a similar play during the Division Series against the Indians last October.

Left fielder B.J. Surhoff was hit by a thrown ball after straying inside the foul line on the way to first base, the misplay keeping the Indians from turning a home-to-first double play.

Funny how history has a way of repeating itself. The play Wednesday night turned into a total disaster when Knoblauch turned to argue with the umpires instead of going in pursuit of the errant throw. By the time the merry-go-round stopped turning, the eventual winning run had crossed the plate and Fryman was standing at third.

"I screwed up the play, and I feel terrible about that," Knoblauch ++ said yesterday. "I should have went and got the ball, regardless of what the outcome of the umpire's call was. I need to apologize to my teammates and my manager and all the Yankee fans."

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