Chucking It Away

Chuck Knoblauch's Bronx Backslide

Later that afternoon, Williams hit two taters and Irabu extended his major league record for "consecutive wins by a pitcher called a fat pussy toad by his owner." Which makes Knoblauch's leadoff homer the third story of the day. So he arrives at his locker— littered with energy supplements and decorated with a snapshot of him with Evander Holyfield— fashionably late and typically inscrutable, wearing a shirt that says simply "HIT ME."

Village Voice: What was the pitch in the first inning?

Knoblauch: A forkball. A split finger.

Village Voice: Where was it?

Knoblauch: Off the barrel of the bat (bends down to grab antiperspirant from his bag). I don't know, man. I'm not trying to be a smartass. Two strikes, I'm not really paying attention to location or anything. I'm just trying to make it be a strike and hopefully put a good swing on it. I'm just trying to be aggressive, get good pitches to hit, not really doing anything different."

Ask around the clubhouse, and Knoblauch would get some votes as the most important Yankee. "He sets the tone for the offense," explains Jeter. And roughly since he got his hair bleached Courtney Love yellow in late June, Knoblauch has been hitting the proverbial snot out of the ball. Post All-Star break, he's hitting .363 with a .429 on-base percentage, and a Griffey-esque .637 slugging percentage. No coincidence that over that same span, the team is 16-8. "He's killing the ball, man," says Jeter, crossing the line from analyst to cheerleader. "He's getting on base, drawing walks, hitting singles, hitting home runs. He's in one of those grooves." When he's doing those things, the other Yankees know that he's the difference between a first-place team and a juggernaut. When he's not, they privately wonder if Alfonso Soriano can play second.

And as Knoblauch grimaces and tries not to think too much about his hot streak, the question remains: Is this for real, or is this yet another tease? Look into his eyes, you get the sense that it's as much a mystery to him as to anyone else.

But unlike his second base contemporaries, Knoblauch's second act remains unwritten. Thanks to the Yankees' '98 postseason comeback, Knoblauch wasn't saddled with a Scarlet V for Vapor Lock. Unlike that other second baseman whose career was derailed in New York, Knoblauch is still on track to Cooperstown. The biggest question is not whether he'll have to pay admission, but whether he'll be wearing a Yankee cap when he gets there.

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