Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Even Clemens can't explain Clemens




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        NEW YORK — Roger Clemens is the primal pitcher: So much rage, not much reason.

        To believe him capable of premeditated mayhem is to believe him capable of coherent thinking. To believe he deliberately threw the broken barrel of Mike Piazza's bat in Piazza's direction Sunday night requires either a leap of faith or a lapse in logic.

        The Rocket is many things, but he's no Rocket Scientist. He reacts instinctively, not intellectually, on the baseball diamond. Asked repeatedly to explain his weirdest World Series moment, Clemens has been a study in convoluted contradictions. After several spin cycles, his story still doesn't quite wash.

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        In the heat
of the moment, in the consensus of lip-readers, Clemens appeared to tell plate umpire Charlie Reliford that he had mistaken Piazza's bat fragment for the ball. Later, Clemens acknowledged he might have mouthed those preposterous words.

        Willingly suspending disbelief for the moment, let's try to follow this derailed train of thought. If Clemens was unable to distinguish the jagged piece of ash from a sphere of stitched cowhide, why did he then throw the bat across Piazza's path and not toward first base?
       

"That's not sane'
               “He was saying he thought it was a ball, OK?” Mets reliever Rick White said Monday at Shea Stadium. “So now we're going to start throwing balls at runners? That's not sane.”

        More likely, Clemens correctly identified the object in his hand, was trying to rid the field of refuse, and may not have realized Piazza would be running on a foul ball since the Mets do not always run on fair balls.

        That wouldn't explain, however, why Clemens did not react more responsibly when the flung bat fragment nearly struck the Mets catcher. It doesn't explain why Clemens stood there with that deer-in-the-headlights look when he could have conveyed — in words or by gesture — that he simply hadn't seen Piazza coming.

        Instead of defusing the controversy with a conciliatory statement or a convincing cringe, Clemens simply asked for another ball, more dazed than defiant, almost oblivious to the rising tensions. (Perhaps he was trying to boost baseball's television ratings. If so, he may well have succeeded.)

        Piazza walked toward the pitcher's mound to confront Clemens, looking for some sort of a sign to determine his next move. He wasn't inclined to charge the mound in the World Series, and risk a damaging suspension, at least not without further provocation.
       

"Confused, unstable'
               “I can assure you, if there was any sort of aggressiveness — if he would have said anything else to me at that point — it could have been a different situation,” Piazza said. “However, there was so much ambiguity as far as the whole situation ... He seemed extremely apologetic and unsure and confused and unstable.”

        Sunday, Clemens said he was overwrought in the first inning, and had to pull himself aside to harness his emotions. Monday, the main regret he expressed was that the hitter had been Piazza.

        History makes it harder to believe in happenstance. Because Clemens hit Piazza in the head on July 8, some observers perceived Sunday's incident as another attempt at intimidation. Others questioned whether Roger Clemens thinks that fast.

        “I don't know what the heck he was doing,” Mets manager Bobby Valentine said Monday. “I thought it was very, very bizarre.”

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       

       



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