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Monday, October 23
Clemens' bat toss adds confusion to Series
By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- It takes some serious innovation to turn a broken-bat foul ball in the first inning into the most memorable event in an entire World Series game.

But thanks to Roger Clemens, we somehow achieved that sensational breakthrough in October plot lines Sunday night.

Roger Clemens
Clemens hurls the broken bat toward the first-base line and Mike Piazza.

Freedom of thought is what makes America great. So feel free to believe Clemens' explanation for firing a jagged piece of bat at a hitter who has openly professed to dislike him.

Feel free to believe that he was so emotional that he didn't know he'd just broken Mike Piazza's bat in 16 billion pieces and therefore was unable to distinguish a baseball from a flying piece of ash.

And while you're at it, feel free to believe that Ed McMahon is dying to come to your house and give you a million dollars, too, even if you don't subscribe to "Modern Computing and Home Decorating."

But as Clemens was in the interview room Sunday night, babbling something to the effect that he was just tossing away this bat to help out his overworked bat boys, it quickly became clear that no one who wasn't bound to defend him, either by contractual obligations or team loyalties, had any idea what he was talking about or thinking about.

"I honestly don't know what he was trying to do," said Mets outfielder Darryl Hamilton. "Even after looking at it on tape, I still don't know what he was trying to do."

"I didn't know what to think," said one of the most rational of all Mets, Todd Zeile. "It was just one of those strange things where you thought, 'What was that about?' "

Piazza himself set a postseason record for most consecutive uses of the word "bizarre" in a five-minute interview period.

And even Yankees manager Joe Torre, who was trying to serve as Clemens' defense attorney, wound up in a long, testy exchange with a room full of media prosecutors -- an exchange that included this diatribe:

"You guys ask me questions. Somebody answer my question. Why would he do it?"

Well, if we could answer that question, we might win a Nobel Prize. There are certain unexplained phenomena in this world. And Clemens is high on the list, right up there with what happened to the Brontosaurus.

Torre tried to defend Clemens by pleading with the puzzled masses to examine the logic behind the theory that Clemens fired the bat at Piazza on purpose. And that's a way better defense than anything Clemens offered up.

"Let's try to analyze it," Torre said. "Why would he throw it 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?"

And the obvious answer is: Of course not.

But does Clemens' explanation -- that he was just so overpowered by his own emotions that he immediately felt the urge to heave this bat "towards our on-deck circle, where our batboys were at" -- make any better sense?

In fact, Clemens couldn't keep his own story straight -- another apparent product of those emotions that had overwhelmed him as recently as four hours earlier.

He started out by claiming he was just tossing the bat to the batboys.

Later, he changed lanes and acknowledged that he'd possibly told the umpires he "thought it was the ball" that had come hurtling at him.

And later on, he went for the total-confusion defense, claiming: "To be honest with you, I didn't know if it was the bat or the ball."

All right. We'll try to take him at his word here. Let's try to analyze that.

Let's say he really, honestly, sincerely thought that was the baseball that had just come flying at him.

"If he felt that way," said Mets pitcher Al Leiter, "shouldn't he have thrown it to Tino (over at first base)?"

Good point. Does anyone out there ever recall any pitcher fielding what he thought to be a ball, even though it looked suspiciously like a foot-long chunk of shattered lumber, and then throwing it toward either (pick your explanation) the batboys or the runner? If so, raise your hand.

OK. Thought so.

Now let's move on to the next explanation -- that he "didn't know if it was the bat or the ball."

"I know the difference between a bat and a ball," Leiter said. "And when I see a bat coming at me, I usually just get the heck out of the way."

Good answer.

But Clemens chose to bounce off the mound, scoop up the bat and then fire it at Piazza. Ever remember any pitcher doing anything like that? If so, raise your hands.

OK. Thought so again.

All right, so possibly there's some other sensible explanation for this -- one that Clemens might simply have been too emotional to recall at the time.

"I've been honestly trying to think of that," Hamilton said. "And the only thing I can honestly see him saying is just: 'I screwed up.' Maybe with all the talk all week about Mike facing him in that first at-bat, the only logical thing I could think of is that maybe he thought Mike actually threw it at him. And then he was thinking, 'OK, I'll throw it back at him.'

"But the bat was shattered, man. ... So I don't know what he was thinking. I'm not in there (meaning Clemens' head), so I really don't know."

Hey, join the club there, Darryl.

We could always simply accept Clemens' repeated explanation that he was so emotional that he really didn't know quite what he was doing. That's at least mildly conceivable. Not necessarily justifiable, but at least conceivable.

"It's possible he was kind of in another world out there," Leiter said. "I can relate to that. Maybe just he's in a world that's a little different than the rest of our worlds."

We can all admit that emotion is part of the game. Especially a World Series game. And more especially, a World Series game featuring a pitcher facing a hitter he'd just conked in the helmet four months earlier.

But the idea is to channel those emotions, not let them almost lead to a nuclear World Series incident. And make no mistake about it: Roger Clemens came dangerously close to starting one.

"He came a lot closer to hitting him than I originally thought," Hamilton said. "You never know how that bat could have bounced. It could have bounced up and hit Mike in the leg. If that had happened, all hell probably would have broken loose."

It didn't, though. All that broke loose was Clemens.

His fastball was more explosive than his temper. His splitter was a blur. And he had the Mets so worked up, "he was able to use our aggressiveness against us," Zeile said.

All that is to Roger Clemens' credit. And his last two October outings -- no runs, three hits, 24 strikeouts in 17 innings -- sum up the greatness of his Hall of Fame career.

But there is no defense for what happened in the first inning Sunday night. And with every word Clemens offered in his own defense, he did nothing but prove that.

When he fired that bat at Mike Piazza, he gave the Mets an ideal source of inspiration. And all they did in response was wave all night at neck-high smokeballs and plummeting splitters in the dirt.

"We can stand here and harp all night about what he did," Hamilton said. "But the bottom line is, he beat us. And the only way for us to get back at him was to beat him. And we didn't do it."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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