Fans torment Knoblauch

Chuck Knoblauch asked the Minnesota Twins to trade him in 1998. He couldn't wait to get out of town again after being harassed throughout the New York Yankees' three-game series at the Metrodome.

Fans still angry at Knoblauch for leaving the team when it was down threw golf balls, hot dogs and plastic beer cups at Knoblauch on Wednesday night, causing umpires to pull the Yankees off the field for 12 minutes in the sixth inning of Minnesota's 4-2 win. The game also was delayed in the eighth for about five minutes, and umpires said they considered calling a forfeit. More than 40 fans were ejected.

"They need to turn the page," said Knoblauch, who also was pelted in the series opener Monday. "It's been four years. I don't know what's going on here."

Twins manager Tom Kelly went into left field during the first delay to plead with the fans, and later escorted Knoblauch back to his position. Though he and Knoblauch don't get along, he was livid about the fans' behaviour.

"It was a terrific game, and in my mind it was ruined," Kelly said. "Hopefully, they can clean it up around here."

Several Twins worried about retaliation when they visit Yankee Stadium for a three-game series Tuesday.

"It's going to be a death trap for us," outfielder Torii Hunter said.

Fans threw quarters Monday at Knoblauch, playing left field in his former home stadium for the first time. Knoblauch, a rookie second baseman on the Twins' 1991 World Championship team, has earned three more World Series rings since being dealt to New York in '98.

On Tuesday night, after a second straight game filled with taunts and boos, Knoblauch joked about being smart enough not to retrieve beach balls that left the stands and landed on the warning track.

"I wasn't in the mood for any beer," he said.

Wednesday, he refused to be critical.

"Even after all this, I won't say anything bad about the city," Knoblauch said. "It's probably a bunch of 16-year-olds who don't have a clue who Chuck Knoblauch is."

After Monday's game, the Twins doubled security in left field. Tuesday brought more taunts and boos, but Wednesday's crowd of 36,825 included walk-up sales of 16,000 and a return of the flying objects.

Twins vice-president Dave St. Peter said the team was taken by surprise by Wednesday's attendance, which was bolstered by the team's hot start and promotions that included dollar hot dogs. The last time the team drew 36,000 to a midweek game in April or May was 13 years ago, he said.

Twins vice-president of stadium operations Matt Hoy said at one point, security had to eject a group of fans when they couldn't correctly identify the guilty.

"I've been here 16 years, through two World Series," Hoy said. "I've never seen behaviour like this exhibited before. It's sad that a few individuals have ruined the party for the rest of us."

The Twins (19-7) have drawn considerably more fans this year with their surprising start, as crowds have been noticeably younger and rowdier, especially in the lower left-field seats. During a home game in April that also included the dollar hot dog promotion, fans started a food fight with the discounted franks in a Metrodome concourse.

The Knoblauch abuse took some of the fun out of the series for the Twins, who won two of the three games and led the AL Central by 21/2 games.

"There's been more excitement in here after a loss," said Doug Mientkiewicz, who was 4-for-4 with 2 RBIs.

By Dave Campbell