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Smizik: Clemens-Piazza feud comes to the surface again

Monday, October 23, 2000

By Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

NEW YORK -- Poise, pride and professionalism have been as much a part of the New York Yankees as winning during their near domination of baseball during the past five years. That code was seemingly shattered last night, in a game won, 6-5, by the Yankees, by the volatile behavior of Yankees starter Roger Clemens, whose masterful pitching performance was overshadowed by his behavior.

 

Clemens, known almost as much for his short temper as his pitching brilliance, shredded baseball etiquette in the first inning of the second game of the World Series by hurling a splintered and jagged broken bat in the direction of his longtime nemesis Mike Piazza of the New York Mets.

Clemens, who gave up two hits in eight innings and struck out nine and left with a 6-0 lead, steadfastly maintained he did not intend to throw the bat at Piazza.

"There was no intent," he said. "I had no idea Mike was running. I grabbed the bat and slung it toward our on-deck circle where out bat boys were. There was no intent."

Ed Montague, the chief umpiring crew, agreed. "It was an emotional reaction. I didn't think he threw the bat at Piazza. There was no intent."

Piazza and Clemens have a troubled recent history. Piazza has owned Clemens, a feat that most certainly has to rile Clemens, who is undisputedly one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Going into last night's game, Piazza had seven hits, including three home runs, in 12 at-bats against Clemens.

But the feud is significantly deeper than that. On July 8, in an interleague game, Clemens hit Piazza in the head with a fastball. The resulting injury caused Piazza to miss the All-Star Game. Piazza made no attempt to take the beaning in stride. He said he believed Clemens did it on purpose and hinted strongly that Clemens, who does not bat because of the designated hitter rule in the American League, was a coward.

The first meeting of Clemens and Piazza since the beaning was one of the storylines of the Series. There clearly was lingering bitterness, at least on Piazza's part, and Clemens' inability to walk away from any confrontational situation only exacerbated the tension.

That's where the two men stood when Piazza shattered his bat hitting a foul ball. The bat broke in three pieces with the barrel going toward Clemens on the mound. Clemens picked the bat up and threw it in the direction of Piazza, who was running to first base.

Piazza wasn't watching Clemens and only saw the bat come in his direction. He appeared surprised and turned, crossed the first-base foul line and walked deliberately toward the mound. Clemens, never one to back down from a fight or any challenge, advanced toward Piazza. Both benches emptied. Home plate umpire Charlie Reliford stepped between Piazza and Clemens and tempers cooled.

Piazza called the situation "bizarre," and said as he approached the mound he repeatedly asked Clemens, "What's your problem."

Clemens, who later said he was so emotionally high he had to leave the dugout after the first inning to calm himself, did not respond, according to Piazza.

Typically, neither Clemens nor the Yankees seemed bothered by the turn of events.

Clemens, coming off a one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece of the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series, continued his outstanding pitching. The Yankees continued to unparalleled postseason excellence by winning their 13th consecutive World Series game.

Clemens was throwing consistently at 97 mph and on at least one occasion threw the ball at 99 mph and had near-total mastery of the Mets, who fell behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

If any team seemed thrown off its game by the first-inning altercation, it was the Mets, who made three errors in the first two innings, and starter Mike Hampton, who was nowhere near the level of effectiveness he displayed in the NLCS, where he was the Most Valuable Player.

It made little difference with the way Clemens is pitching. The Mets certainly aren't looking forward to facing him again in the Series, and the way these games are going, they likely won't get the chance.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com

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