Work in Sports
No Rocket scientist
Clemens was his vintage self, in more ways than one
Updated: Monday October 23, 2000 2:24 AM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK -- Surely, Roger Clemens has tasted sherbet, thinking it was ice cream. He's heard soul music, not understanding that it's really R&B. He's smelled strawberry, but -- to his nose -- it was cherry. He's mixed California Rolls for sushi, Vanilla Ice for MC Hammer, LA Law for NYPD Blue.
All such mix-ups are thoroughly understandable. Confusing the cracked head of a bat for a baseball is not.
Sunday night, Clemens pitched one of the great games of his illustrious career, holding the Mets to two hits and no runs, striking out nine and mixing his fastball and splitter with Denny's Breakfast Buffet-like variety in a 6-5 Game 2 World Series victory.
His dominance, however, is already forgotten, replaced by one of the most idiotic, most unbelievable, most ludicrous, most Clemens-esque moments in World Series history.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Clemens threw a 1-2 fastball that ran toward Mike Piazza's hands. The All-Star catcher swung, fouling off the ball and slicing his bat in two. The handle stayed with Piazza. The head bounced toward Clemens. Piazza, who lost sight of the ball, began running toward first. Clemens, who cleanly fielded the bat head, turned toward Piazza, whipped his right arm back and threw the wood toward his newfound nemesis.
On a night in which he was nearly perfect, Clemens missed -- barely. Piazza -- who was beaned in the head by a Clemens' fastball on July 8 -- was stunned. Oddly, so was Clemens. He turned to Charlie Reliford, the home plate umpire, and said -- with seemingly 100 percent sincerity -- "I thought it was the ball."
I thought it was the ball?
Three or four times, according to Piazza, the Mets catcher asked Clemens:
"What's your problem?"
Three or four times, Clemens failed to answer.
Later, in an emotion-filled, stranger-than-fiction press conference chock full o' yells, bursts and animation, the usually dove-like Joe Torre emphatically defended his ace to 200-plus media bloodhounds.
"Why would he throw at him?" asked Torre rhetorically. "So he could get thrown out of the game in the second inning of the World Series? Does that make any sense to anybody? Someone answer my question. Why would he do it? Because he's angry with him?"
Torre, huffing and puffing like a 12-pack-a-day-smoker on life support, kept going. Steam oozed from his ears. Fire spat from his eyes. Oddly, Torre had become -- of all things -- Bobby Valentine. "Why would he do it? Because he's angry? Angry with him, so he screws 24 other people on his team? He's angry at Mike Piazza because he hit Mike Piazza in the head?"
As his manager spoke, Clemens stood in the wings of Yankee Stadium's interview room. The mighty Rocket looked sad; almost "Why me?" confused.
"I can't believe this," he said to no one in particular. "We win Game 2 in the World Series, and all they ask about is this s---."
Minutes later, Clemens tried his best to defend his actions. No, he was not throwing the bat at Piazza. No, he didn't realize Piazza was running down the first base line. Yes, he was messed up and over-emotional.
Yes, he might have told Reliford, "I thought it was the ball."
"There was no intent," he said. "Again: Fired up, emotional;, grabbed the bat to sling it toward our on-deck circle where our bat-boys were at. There was no intent there. That really wasn't the substance of the game."
On that point, Clemens was correct. His bat toss wasn't the substance of the game. It was just plain stupid.