|Thursday, June 13
Clemens-Piazza sideshow takes center stage
NEW YORK -- The Subway Series has turned into a Big Apple circus.
It seems everyone in the city is waiting to see if the New York Mets will retaliate against the New York Yankees ace.
The city tabloids are having a field day. Radio talk shows are filled with calls from angry Mets fans who want revenge.
"Everybody wants to stir the pot, that's how it is,'' Jason Giambi said.
He's been with the Yankees just a few months, but apparently Giambi already knows plenty about New York. And the drama will be undeniable Saturday afternoon.
Clemens is scheduled to pitch the second game of the interleague series. With no designated hitter used in the National League ballpark, he'll have to stand in the batter's box knowing the Mets might fire a fastball at his ear. And Piazza could be crouching right behind him, calling the pitches.
But Clemens, who has hit 132 batters in his career -- most among active pitchers -- claims he doesn't mind.
"Why would I? That's media-driven,'' Clemens said. "That happened a long time ago last time I checked.''
The Mets and their fans clearly haven't forgotten what happened in 2000. One newspaper story this week quoted unnamed Mets as saying they thought Clemens hit San Francisco's Barry Bonds with a pitch in his previous start so he would be suspended for the Subway Series.
That's a theory that would make even Oliver Stone proud.
"I think it's gotten blown out of proportion,'' Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You'd think they would want to focus on winning games instead of Clemens hitting.''
Jeter has a point. The slumping Mets enter the series a game below .500 and 6½ games out of first place in the NL East.
"I think they need to worry about more things than a beanball war the way they're playing,'' said Yankees reliever Steve Karsay, a New York native who grew up just a long fly ball from Shea Stadium. "There's a lot of guys playing against each other now that weren't there two years ago.''
One of them is 29-year-old Mets lefty Shawn Estes, who came over in a trade last winter and will start against the Yankees on Saturday. He has no personal beef with Clemens, but Piazza is Estes' catcher, and baseball is a game with a lot of unwritten rules.
"If I allow my primary focus to be on Clemens, I may not get out of the first inning,'' Estes said. "That's an issue between him and Mike. It happened two years ago. It's a moot point.''
Nevertheless, the Clemens-Piazza sideshow has taken much of the attention off the games themselves. And many of the Yankees are obviously annoyed by it, saying the Mets missed their chance to retaliate two years ago and are promising to back Clemens if he's nailed.
"These unnamed Mets, their parents didn't name them? I don't pay attention when people say things they don't put their names on,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "The one thing I've always tried to do is keep the focus on baseball.''
That's been hard to do this week. The Mets have had to answer endless questions too, especially Piazza.
"I think it's funny,'' he said. "You're talking about the past. That's the way I look at it. All that other stuff is for other people to worry about. We're going to try and beat him.''
Wally Bell is scheduled to be the plate umpire Saturday. There is speculation the commissioner's office might instruct the umpires to issue beanball warnings to both teams before the game.
"The league has not said anything to us yet, but I'm sure come then, they'll let us know what their feelings are,'' Bell said Wednesday. "It's June, it's another game, it's New York-New York. We'll go from there.''
The saga started on July 8, 2000, when Piazza came to the plate at Yankee Stadium 7-for-12 lifetime against Clemens with three homers.
The Rocket threw a fastball off the front of the slugger's helmet, and Piazza fell to the ground with a concussion.
Three months later the teams met in a tense World Series. Clemens started Game 2, and Piazza looked unsure -- almost scared -- at the plate. When he broke his bat on a foul ball, a revved-up Clemens threw the jagged barrel in Piazza's path, inexplicably claiming he thought it was the baseball at first.
There was a brief verbal confrontation, and the pitcher was fined $50,000. Torre tweaked his rotation last season to avoid pitching Clemens at Shea, so Mets fans have waited two years hoping to see him pay a different kind of price.
"I don't think it's going to be over, ever. Not as long as that tape still lives,'' Torre said. "It's too good a story.''