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Yankess Snap Two It

Game 2: After Clemens throws broken bat toward Piazza, he shuts down Mets, whose ninth-inning rally falls short in 6-5 loss, giving Yankees a 2-0 Series lead.

October 23, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Last weekend, it was two consecutive fastballs thrown under the chin of Seattle Mariner superstar Alex Rodriguez. Sunday night, it was the fat end of a broken bat heaved toward the shins of New York Met franchise player Mike Piazza.

Whatever his method, whether he's acting like a macho intimidator or a hyperactive teenager who can't control his emotions, the result has been the same: Yankee right-hander Roger Clemens gets inside the heads of opponents, rattles around there for a while and leaves them shaken, not stirred.

The Mets were his latest victims Sunday night, as Clemens turned what should have been a rallying point for the Mets--a first-inning insult in the form of a broken bat hurled at his New York nemesis, Piazza--into his own personal motivational tool.

Clemens brushed off the bizarre incident to throw eight shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out nine to lead the Yankees to a 6-5 victory over the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series before 56,059 in Yankee Stadium.

The Mets put a major scare into the Yankees in the ninth when Piazza hit a two-run home run off reliever Jeff Nelson, Todd Zeile sent left fielder Clay Bellinger to the top of the wall to catch a long fly ball, and Jay Payton hit a three-run homer off closer Mariano Rivera.

But Rivera buckled down and struck out Kurt Abbott on three pitches to end the game, as the Yankees took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with Orlando Hernandez, who is 8-0 in the postseason, going against Met right-hander Rick Reed in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Shea Stadium.

Of the previous 46 teams to win the first two games of the World Series, 35 have gone on to win the championship.

Clemens was not as dominant Sunday as he was in his last start, when he threw a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts in a 5-0 victory over Seattle in Game 4 of the American League championship series.

But just as he did with his first-inning buzzing of Rodriguez then, Clemens distracted the Mets in the first inning Sunday and seemed to throw them off-kilter.

The Mets committed two outfield errors in the first two innings, and outside of Zeile, who singled in the second and seventh innings, none of their hitters could touch Clemens.

Not that Piazza didn't want to.

Piazza-Clemens II was as absurd as a pro wrestling match and almost deteriorated into one, with one guy throwing a hunk of jagged wood at the other guy and both posturing for a fight.

In their first meeting since Clemens' oft-replayed July 8 beaning of Piazza during an interleague game, Piazza fouled off a 1-and-2 pitch that shattered his bat.

The barrel of the bat flew toward the mound, and Clemens, who is more tightly wound on game days than a juiced-up baseball, fielded it like a grounder and threw it toward Piazza, who was about 25 feet down the first-base line.

Piazza glared at Clemens, moved toward the mound, and both benches emptied. No punches were thrown, but as the umpires were restoring order, Clemens told one of them, "I thought it was the ball."

Which raised a good question: If Clemens thought the bat was a ball, why did he throw it at Piazza instead of Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez?

But the real interrogation didn't begin until after the game, when Clemens, Piazza, Yankee Manager Joe Torre and Met Manager Bobby Valentine were probed in an effort to determine Clemens' motivation, an inquisition that so infuriated Torre that he nearly walked out of the interview room.

Clemens said it was an emotional reaction, that he had no idea Piazza was in the vicinity and there was no intent to throw the bat at him.

"I was fired up, emotional, I grabbed the bat and slung it toward our on-deck circle where our batboys are," Clemens said. "I had no idea Mike was running on the foul ball."

Piazza said he was "confused and shocked" by the incident and moved toward the mound "to find out what Roger's problem was." Clemens, Piazza said, had no response, but the pitcher later said he didn't hear Piazza.

Torre, who has lashed out at the media for focusing so much attention on the Clemens-Piazza rematch and the July beanball, challenged those who questioned Clemens' intent.

"I think we have to ask one question: Why would he throw the bat at him?" Torre said. "So he could get thrown out of the second game of the World Series? Does that make any sense to anybody?

"Somebody answer me. You guys ask me questions. Somebody answer my question. Why did he do it? Because he was angry at Mike? So he [affects] 24 other guys on his team?"

When a reporter told Torre he did not know the answers, Torre shot back: "That's right. You don't have an answer because there is no answer. It doesn't make sense. Should he have done it? No. But I think it was very emotional."

Torre was asked if it was possible Clemens was trying to intimidate the Mets by throwing the bat.

"No," Torre said. "That's not something you work on when you throw between starts."

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