Special to ESPN.com
This was the moment for which New York had been waiting, wishing and dreaming. The Rematch of The Confrontation: Rocket vs. Mike, the Yankees' future Hall of Fame starting pitcher vs. the Mets' future Hall of Fame catcher. This was pure theater, the ultimate anticipated event.
The last time they had met, in July of 2000, only three months earlier, Clemens buried a fastball into Piazza's skull. Everyone in the Mets' organization and their fans were fuming. Everyone on the other side of this equation was stunned ... and a bit worried about the form of retaliation ... and when it would arrive.
So when the Mets and Yankees won their respective pennants, the stage was set for Clemens vs. Piazza II in Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
When Roger Clemens arrives at the stadium, he is extremely intense, highly focused and uncharacteristically nervous. All week long, all he's heard, all he's been asked about, is Mike Piazza. He plays it down each and every time, but considering the magnitude of the event and the situation, Clemens is buzzing with more intensity than he had ever experienced before on his day to pitch.
While receiving a rubdown in the clubhouse before the game, Clemens is breathing heavily, like a wild bull preparing to bust through the gate. He tries to calm himself down, reminding himself to stay cool and under control. But he can't get Piazza out of his mind and the manner in which he intends to pitch to him.
|Piazza growled and pointed angrily at Clemens after the Rockets threw the shattered bat barrel in his direction.|
He tells himself, "Should I go up and in on him?" That is, after all, the way Clemens has approached every previous confrontation with Piazza. Not that it worked very well. Piazza is a .578 hitter against Clemens, which is why it is imperative for Clemens to pitch him tight & yet it's also the reason many people think Clemens, an accused headhunter, purposely hit Piazza in the head three months earlier. So as Clemens ponders whether he should go up and in on Piazza in the first inning of tonight's game, he immediately thinks, "What happens if one gets away?" He knows all hell will break loose.
When Clemens takes the mound in the top of the first, he's in a zone and the stadium is abuzz. He's locked in. He's throwing consistently in the high 90s. He whiffs leadoff man Timo Perez with a 97-mph fastball, then gets Edgardo Alfonzo to fan on a sick 94-mph splitter. Next up is Piazza.
The sequence is surreal as Clemens blows a 97-mph fastball past Piazza for a strike. Then another. Then he unleashes a splitter for a ball. The next pitch is a blazing fastball that tails in on Piazza's hands. He swings and boom! -- the bat explodes into three pieces. The handle stays in Piazza's hands. The middle of the bat flies into foul territory off the first-base side. The barrel, the biggest part of the jagged bat, bounces to the left side of the infield, between the mound and first base.
Clemens rushes in to field what he thinks is the ball. At least that's what he says later. Then, to the astonishment of millions of people, once he realizes it's a piece of a bat, and not the ball, Clemens angrily flings the bat toward foul territory on the first-base side -- right in the path of Piazza, who is running toward first. Piazza is stunned, confused and a little disoriented because of all the flying bat pieces, yet he is certain Clemens is throwing the bat purposely at him. A stunned Piazza begins walking toward Clemens with a perplexed expression. "What's your problem?" Piazza yells.
The moment becomes highly intense as the space between the two players rapidly closes. But Clemens, refusing to acknowledge Piazza, walks toward home plate, telling umpire Charlie Reliford, "Give me a ball." Meanwhile, as both dugouts empty, Reliford stands between the players, keeping order out of the potential chaos. Piazza, maintaining his composure under the most bizarre of inflammable situations, returns to home plate and Clemens returns to the mound.
On the next pitch, Piazza grounds out to second, and Clemens races off the mound, into the dugout, up the runway and into the clubhouse. His emotions were running so high that he had to find a way to calm himself down. Clemens goes on to pitch a brilliant eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits, yet the Mets rally for a stunning five runs in the ninth, but fall a run short and lose, 6-5. Yet everything on this night and even the rest of the World Series, which the Yankees win in five games, is secondary to Clemens-Piazza II.