Monday, October 23, 2000

Clemens lucky he missed

        NEW YORK — The baseball did Roger Clemens' bidding Sunday night. It darted and dipped, soared and sank, and thoroughly bedeviled the New York Mets. The Rocket needs to work on his bat-throwing technique, though. It nearly caused a brawl.

        Before the second game of the World Series became a testament to Clemens' pitching talent, it made a brief Subway Series stop at his pugnacity. The Yankee pitcher turned the season's most anticipated at-bat — his post-plunking rematch with Mike Piazza — into a benches-clearing shouting match by picking up a piece of Piazza's broken bat and flinging it directly across the Mets catcher's path to first base.

        On a night Clemens was otherwise in complete command — limiting the Mets to two hits in eight shutout innings of a 6-5 victory — his momentary lapse in etiquette could have had serious consequences. Had he struck Piazza with the bat fragment — and he missed by no more
than a few feet — plate umpire Charlie Reliford could easily have ejected him.

        “Before I let go of the bat, I had no idea that Mike had run (on a foul ball),” Clemens said. “There was no intent. I had no idea that Mike was running. That really wasn't the substance of the game.”

Throw out the barrel
               It was, however, a critical moment. Had the umpires failed to accept Clemens' story, and suspected him of malicious intent, the Yankees might have been forced to explore the depths of their dubious long relief. In light of the ninth-inning difficulties of Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees needed every bit of cushion Clemens could provide.

        “It was bizarre,” Piazza said. “I walked out to see what his problem was, but there was really had no response. . .I was trying to figure out if it was intentional or not. By the time I kept asking him, there was intervention from everyone else.”

        Clemens said he did not hear Piazza's questions. He said he was so emotional in the first inning that, “my feet were off the ground.” When the inning ended — on Piazza's ground ball to second base — Clemens reminded himself of the need to regain his self-control. He was seldom challenged thereafter.

        Clemens followed his one-hit shutout of Seattle in the American League Championship Series with a gem of comparable brilliance. He struck out nine on this night, all of them swinging.

        “Much as I hate to tip my hat to a guy with good stuff — and especially him — he had it tonight,” Mets manager Bobby Valentine said.

Rocket redux
               If Clemens' split-fingered pitch was less biting than it had been at Safeco Field, his various fastballs were virtually unfathomable. He limited the visitors to four baserunners and retired Piazza three times in succession.

        After striking out the first two Mets, Clemens faced Piazza for the first time since he caused him a concussion with a fastball to the batting helmet on July 8.

        Clemens' first two pitches to Piazza were called strikes, and his third was low for a ball. He then threw a pitch that rode in on Piazza's fists, splintering his bat.

        As Piazza jogged toward first base, Clemens picked up the largest fragment in front of the pitcher's mound and flung it across the first-base line.

        “It was an emotional reaction,” said umpiring crew chief Ed Montague. “I don't think he (Clemens) threw the bat at Piazza. There was no intent.”

        Clemens was lucky to get off with a lecture. What followed was not luck, but skill.


        Complete World Series coverage by Associated Press

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