Work in Sports
Mets' Zeile the only one who could hit Clemens
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- If the New York Mets face Roger Clemens again in this World Series -- and the way things are going, that seems a pretty long shot -- they might do well to get a little pep talk from first baseman Todd Zeile.
Zeile was the only Mets batter to get a hit off the strong-armed New York Yankees ace Sunday in Game 2 of the Series. And he got two of them.
It wasn't nearly enough, of course, as the Yankees beat back a five-run comeback in the ninth inning (after Clemens was pulled) to knock off the Mets, 6-5. But on a night when the Mets, now down two games to none in the Series, were looking for just about any positives, the success of Zeile against Clemens worked just fine.
"I don't know that I can tell you exactly why I was successful as compared to the other guys," Zeile said after the game. "But I think my game plan with him was try and lay off the split. Try and lay off the split.
"I try to lay off the splits so I can get a fastball in fastball counts. And if you get a fastball over the plate in fastball counts, you can't miss it."
The Book on Clemens, according to Zeile, who owns a .357 lifetime average against Clemens, is a dominant fastball and a better-than-average slider. But the split-fingered fastball, Zeile thinks, is Clemens' out pitch.
That's the pitch that starts off low in the strike zone, then dives into the dirt. It's a strikeout pitch, one that Clemens got a majority of his 15 strikeouts on in the Yankees' win over Seattle last week and the pitch most responsible for the Mets' nine strikeouts Sunday.
"The key to hitting any power pitcher that is trying to dominate is ... I was getting myself in hitter's counts," said Zeile, who is hitting a team-leading .444 in the two games of the Series. "Three-two, two-one, where I was able to get a pitch that I could do something with."
Zeile singled off Clemens in the top of the second inning on a 3-2 count, slapping a hard single to right-center field. In the top of the fourth, he hit into a fielder's choice, but he worked Clemens to a 2-2 count in the seventh before slapping a single through the left side of the infield.
They were the only hits that Clemens gave up in a performance that had most of the Mets raving. Even Zeile. Maybe especially Zeile.
"He didn't even have that splitter when he first broke in," Zeile said. "He developed that and it's turned into a dominant pitch, not just a good one."
Some suggested the Mets were intimidated by Clemens, especially after the bizarre first-inning incident in which Clemens threw a shattered part of Mike Piazza's bat in Piazza's direction. The Mets, not surprisingly, didn't see it that way.
"I didn't think there was intimidation," manager Bobby Valentine said. "You think that's why we didn't get any hits? I think it was a 95 mph fastball and a hell of a split with control."
Whatever, two things are givens: Zeile wasn't intimidated by Clemens. And, still, that wasn't enough to make a difference for the Mets.