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SUBWAY SERIES | BILL PLASCHKE

Yankees Snap Two It

After dangerous broken bat-throwing incident, umpire should have thrown tightly wound Clemens out of game.

October 23, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

NEW YORK — He looks like he should be working not the middle of a diamond, but a honky tonk parking lot.

Like he should be wearing not pinstripes, but flannel.

Like he should be not throwing sinking fastballs, but sloppy fists.

When he took the mound at baseball's most historic house in one of its most historic series Sunday night, he looked like he wandered into the wrong place, like he had to stick a few heads in a jukebox before he could leave.

Roger Clemens. Damned Fool Yankee.

In a 6-5 victory over the New York Mets in Game 2 of the World Series, Clemens mostly threw brilliant pitches.

Some were heat. Others were yo-yos. But one was wood.

Literally, dangerously wood.

With two out in the first inning, Clemens sawed off Mike Piazza's bat, then apparently tried to spear him with it, angrily tossing the broken barrel toward Piazza's feet as he jogged out of the batter's box.

Eyes widened. Jaws dropped. Benches cleared.

This was the same Piazza who suffered a concussion after being beaned by Clemens earlier this summer in an interleague game.

This was the same Clemens who becomes so tightly wound in important situations, he was once thrown out of a league championship series game in the second inning for wildly cursing the umpire from the mound.

In a Subway Series that had so far been surprisingly civil, this was the Number 4 train colliding with the Number 7 train during rush hour in the Bronx.

Clemens should have been derailed, a second playoff ejection, if not a suspension, immediately.

But with roaring Yankee Stadium perhaps in danger of collapsing around him, home plate umpire Charlie Reliford chose to believe Clemens' explanation that he was just throwing the bat to the Yankee batboy and had no idea Piazza had left the batter's box on a foul ball.

Like you always throw an opponent's broken bat to your batboy. And when you do it, you always grit your teeth and throw it like a discus.

Whatever.

Doesn't matter now.

Clemens escaped to allow two hits in eight innings. The Yankees escaped a five-run Met uprising in the ninth inning to take a two-games-to-none lead.

The broken bat incident will soon be forgotten in the wake of a third consecutive Yankee series sweep.

Or will it?

Judging from the reaction afterward, Sunday's first inning is going to hang around the front of this series like ugly drapes.

Yankee Manager Joe Torre, the nicest of men, cursed and angrily threatened to walk out of a press conference.

"Let's try to analyze it," Torre snapped. "Why would he throw at him? So he could get thrown out of the game in the second game of the World Series? Does that make any sense to anybody?"

John Stearns, Met catching coach, politely said Clemens should have his head examined.

"I don't know what's going on with the guy," Stearns said. "The last time we played, he drilled (Piazza). This time, he throws a bat at him. This guy better check out what's going on."

Piazza, who homered in the ninth inning but did nothing earlier against Clemens, seemed to think the pitcher should have been thrown out.

"You know what? It doesn't matter," Piazza said. "If they think it's unintentional, that's their ruling, and it doesn't matter what I think."

Clay Bellinger, the Yankee outfielder who stole a homer from Todd Zeile in that overshadowed ninth, thinks anybody who believes it was intentional is truly out of their mind.

"There is no way he meant to throw that bat at Piazza, and I can't believe anybody would think that," he said.

The teams travel 12 miles across town to hold day-off workouts today before resuming the Series at Shea Stadium Tuesday.

At that point, one wonders if there's won't be loud confirmation that this incident is not over, but just beginning.

"My concern was what we're doing to the fans and what may come out of that," Torre said.

His concern should also be Clemens, a future Hall of Famer who, at age 38, has suddenly rediscovered an old fastball and intensity. In his last two playoff starts, he has not allowed a run in 17 innings with 24 strikeouts. That is good.

But Clemens has also been beset with old knots that used to fill his stomach and cloud his thinking during big games, making him one of baseball's best pitchers without important victories until last season.

Clemens admitted he was so hyped up Sunday, "My feet weren't even on the ground."

He was so hyped that, "After the first inning, I had to come inside and go into a room by myself to calm down."

He said the bat throwing was simply a result of that hype.

"Fired up, emotional, grabbed the bat to sling it towards our on-deck circle where our bat boys were at," he said.

But he also admitted that he was worn down after a week of speculation on whether the Mets would figure a way to retaliate against Clemens for his earlier beaning of Piazza. Not to mention, there was constant criticism that Clemens was afraid to pitch at Shea Stadium because he would have to bat there.

By starting him Sunday, Torre ensured that Clemens would not pitch at Shea.

"After all I heard this week, it was all building up, I was just pretty fired up," Clemens said.

That feeling served him well after the first inning. But it let him and his teammates down before that. And it will now follow them through next week.

After the anger and accusations had subsided late Sunday, somebody asked Torre, so, how does a two-games-to-none lead feel?

"A lot worse now than it did an hour ago," he said.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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