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Anger Might Have Caused Mets' Undoing

October 23, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

NEW YORK — So, the last time it was a ball drilled into the left side of his batting helmet and this time it was the barrel end of a sawed-off bat.

Roger Clemens continued to turn Mike Piazza into a human dartboard Sunday night, but the most painful aspect of this second game in the Subway World Series was that a five-run rally in the ninth inning only made it close for the New York Mets.

They fell to 0-2 in the best-of-seven event, losing to the New York Yankees, 6-5, after collecting only two hits in eight shutout innings against the hated Clemens, who for the second time in four months became the focal point of the Mets' anger.

The problem is that the Mets might have allowed that irritation to take them out of their game plan.

The problem is that they are winless in this Series and next have to face Orlando Hernandez, who merely has an 8-0 career record in the postseason, 3-0 this year.

As the Mets debated the question of whether Clemens intentionally threw the bat at Piazza in the first inning of Game 2 or whether he should have been ejected, outfielder Darryl Hamilton put the bottom line in perspective.

"The only way we're ever going to get Roger Clemens back is by going out and beating him," Hamilton said, "and we didn't do it."

They didn't do it, perhaps, because Clemens may have used their anger and animosity to his advantage.

"We were emotionally charged, and he turned that aggressiveness against us," said Todd Zeile, who had the only two hits off Clemens. "When you've got a pitcher with the ability and experience that he has, he knows how to make things work for him and he took us out of our game plan."

It is difficult to believe that any game plan would have worked against the high-90s fastballs Clemens was throwing while fanning nine Mets, but those high voltage emotions--recharged by constant media reminders of the concussion Piazza suffered when beaned by Clemens in July, a beaning the Mets felt was intentional--took another charge by the bat-throwing incident of the first inning.

It happened after Piazza fouled a fastball down the right field line, the bat splintering. Piazza was left holding the handle as Clemens fielded the barrel end, which he threw in Piazza's direction as the Met catcher trotted up the first base line, unsure of where the ball had gone.

"I was as confused and shocked as everybody through the whole thing," Piazza said. "To start with, I was a little disoriented because my bat had shattered and I really had no idea where the ball was, no clue. When he threw the bat, I basically just walked toward him to see what his problem was. I mean, I kept asking him what the deal was, and he had no response. I was trying to get him to say it was an accident or whatever, and he didn't say anything. It was bizarre, really bizarre, and I hate to think that this is the incident that will be remembered instead of an interesting ballgame."

As Met coach John Stearns ranted in the clubhouse that Clemens needs to be checked out, suggesting a psychiatrist, most of Piazza's teammates expressed the same confusion as their catcher.

"I don't know what to think," said Zeile. "It was just one of those things where you said, 'What in the world was that?'

"I mean, everybody has been playing this out in their minds since July. To put Mike and Roger in the center of it again . . . well, you wonder what the baseball gods were thinking."

The benches emptied as Piazza walked toward Clemens, but there were no punches and only a few shoves.

"We went out to protect Mike," reserve catcher Todd Pratt said. "We didn't go out as hit men. A fight wasn't going to settle anything. These games are too important to have anyone ejected or hurt in a fight."

Should Clemens have been ejected?

"The umpires thought it was unintentional, so it doesn't matter what I think," said Piazza.

Said Hamilton: "There seems to be different rules for the regular season and the postseason, different rules for the stars and the scrubs. I'm sure the TV people wouldn't have been happy to see Roger Clemens ejected in the first inning."

Steve Phillips, the Met general manager, said he was surprised and bewildered when Clemens threw the bat but felt the umpires made the correct decision since the incident didn't escalate.

"He didn't hit him, it didn't turn into a fight and it wasn't the determining factor in the game," Phillips said.

"I mean, I'm just happy nothing worse happened. The last thing we needed was to lose Mike with an injury or ejection."

Happy is relative. Phillips certainly isn't happy to be 0-2, isn't happy that Met pitchers couldn't keep it close after the Yankees scored two runs in the first inning, isn't happy his team made three errors after all of the mistakes in Game 1.

Piazza, hitless against Clemens, slugged a two-run homer off Jeff Nelson in the ninth, and Jay Payton slugged a three-run homer off Mariano Rivera, but it was still too little too late.

A rematch? The Mets may have to wait until next summer's interleague schedule before seeing Clemens again. The Yankees need only two more victories for their third consecutive championship, and Clemens will not pitch in any of the games at Shea Stadium, where he would have to bat--vulnerable to potential retaliation by bat or ball.

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