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Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Piazza, Clemens calm

Rematch produces fly ball to right field

July 11, 2001

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— No hit, no blowup, no drama.

When Roger Clemens finally pitched to Mike Piazza again, nothing much happened.

In their first meeting since Clemens' weird World Series bat toss, Piazza saw seven pitches from the Rocket in the second inning of Tuesday night's All-Star game at Safeco Field.

Clemens conspicuously avoided the inside part of the plate he's made his home, and retired Piazza on a harmless flyout to medium right field.

This is what everyone was waiting for?

"If he had thrown one inside, it wouldn't have surprised me at all," Piazza said. "I just went up there and approached it like any other at-bat. I had a couple of good cuts."

In New York, fans thrive on controversy. Had they met only three days earlier, when their teams played at Yankee Stadium, the crowd would have been howling. But at Safeco, there was silence.

The two went into the All-Star game saying they hoped that after this, the fallout from their faceoff would be over.

"As far as I'm concerned it is," Clemens said after coming out of the game, which the AL won 4-1.

Ever since Clemens beaned Piazza on July 8 last year, knocking the Mets' catcher out of the All-Star game at Turner Field, New York has acted as if the two were dynamite and a lighted match, waiting to explode if they came together.

When they met for the first time after that in Game 2 of last year's World Series, Piazza shattered his bat on a foul ball and, in a bizarre turn, Clemens threw the jagged barrel in front of Piazza's path.

With Yankees manager Joe Torre carefully configuring his rotation to avoid having Clemens pitch against the Mets during their six regular-season games, Piazza hadn't gotten into the batter's box against Clemens since the Subway Series. The five-time Cy Young Award winner said his goal was simple.

"Just throw it down the middle and try to put something on it," Clemens said.

That's not the attitude Clemens used to compile a 272-143 record and strike out 3,626 batters, the fifth-most in baseball history. The 47,364 fans at Safeco know he trades on the inside, remembering how he sent Alex Rodriguez sprawling in last year's playoffs.

Piazza, the Mets' blond bomber, is 7-for-12 (.583) against Clemens in regular-season games with three homers and a double. He admits the Yankees' scouting reports say to pitch Piazza inside, where he can't extend the rippled arms that have put up the greatest offensive statistics for any catcher.

"I know I'm going to face Mike again somewhere down the road," Clemens said, "and I'm going to have to be careful with him. He's a great hitter."

Clemens opened with a 93 mph pitch that sailed outside. Way outside.

Piazza fouled the next pitch, what he thought was his best chance.

"He's throwing a lot harder this year," Piazza said. "His mechanics are more sound. He's able to overpower guys."

Piazza took a ball, then a strike, leaving the count at 2-2.

He would have had to crane his neck like a swan to get in the way of any of them.

After another foul, Piazza worked the count to 3-2, then lofted the ball to Juan Gonzalez in right field.

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