By Rich Coutinho
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I have been to every single Subway Series game and it seems like yesterday the Roger Clemens/Mike Piazza saga ran its course.
To this day, I simply could never understand how the Mets failed to retaliate and how anyone could ever think Clemens was not throwing at Piazza on purpose. For those of you too young to remember (after all it was 11 years ago) let me set the scene. Mike Piazza had owned Roger Clemens treating him like his own personal battering ram in these Subway Series encounters. In fact, one of his grand slams at Yankee Stadium even prompted John Sterling to say, “It’s another Piazza blast.”
In the 1999 season, Piazza hit two homers off Clemens — that grand slam and a late-inning homer that sealed a win for Al Leiter on an incredibly humid night at Shea Stadium. In fact, the next day Piazza hit one of the longest homers I had ever seen him hit, this one off Ramiro Mendoza on the day that Matt Franco beat Mariano Rivera.
So, when 2000 rolled around, the Yankees had their fill of Piazza and Clemens decided to do something about it. Because of a rainout, the teams played a split doubleheader with Dwight Gooden besting the Mets in his old stomping grounds at Shea and after that game, we all traveled north to the Bronx for the nightcap.
What followed was the most gutless act I have ever seen on a pitching mound. Clemens threw at Piazza’s head and the whole crowd (Yankee and Met fans alike) gasped as the city’s best hitter fell to the ground. I remember thinking at that very moment that any respect I had for Roger Clemens was gone. He had decided he could not get Piazza out so his last resort was to bean him. But the worst was yet to come.
It was amazing but somehow the Yankees tried to make Piazza out to be the villain because he would not take Clemen’s phone call. Before we get into “He said, she said” understand this — when Clemens called Piazza was being examined and speaking to Clemens was the furthest thing from his mind.
The next day, the Yankees acted as if they were the wronged party and even some Yankees, including bench coach Don Zimmer, theorized Piazza could have gotten out of the way. Arrogance at its height. This from a group of people who said they were sure Clemens wasn’t throwing at him despite the fact that was his reputation and he even low bridged the classy Derek Jeter while a member of the Blue Jays a few years earlier.
It even got heated between members of the media who covered the respective teams, especially when you consider the fact Mike Piazza was perhaps the most accommodating player I’ve ever been around while Roger Clemens was as moody as they come. The next night, Mike Hampton shut out the Yankees at Shea but did not retaliate. I thought that was a big mistake which would have October repercussions.
To this day, I believe that had the Mets settled this on their turf on that night after the first incident, it might have changed the course of events. Those of us covering the 2000 World series had heard rumors that if the Mets won Game 5 (The Luis Sojo 47-hopper) that Bobby Valentine was going to bat Lenny Harris leadoff and who would’ve dragged a bunt to entice Clemens into an altercation. I have never confirmed those rumors but my goodness would that have been something?
So, when you are settling into the Subway Series this weekend, understand that there was a time these encounters meant everything and the crowd would watch more of these games standing up than actually sitting in their seats. I think the games this weekend have meaning for both teams as the Mets and Yankees are playing winning baseball right now. But nothing will ever come close to the Piazza/Clemens incidents of those years. Ironically, Clemens won the battle but will lose the war, as Mike Piazza’s next stop is Cooperstown likely wearing a Met hat while Clemens may be wearing a uniform again — one with a multi digit number on the front rather than a 2 digit number on the back.
Are you pumped for the series this weekend? Let’s get the conversation going in the comments below…