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Clemens vs Piazza Revisited

It’s been two decades since the Subway Series between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees took center stage in the Fall Classic. That year, the team’s best player was second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who posted a 6.4 BBRef WAR. The rotation featured Mike Hampton, Glendon Rusch and Al Leiter. The superstar, however, was Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza, in his third season as a Met, was already an eight time All-Star at this point in his career (formerly a Los Angeles Dodger and Florida Marlin). From 1992-2007, he slugged 427 homeruns to coincide with a lifetime .308/.377/.545 slashline.

The Yankees, who had won in 1996, 1998 and 1999, were looked for their fourth championship in five years. The lineup was stacked with some of the greatest Yankee players who ever lived, notably Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. They had the greatest closer of all-time in Mariano Rivera. At the deadline, they added Atlanta Braves legend David Justice, whose bat won the Braves the World Series in 1995. Their ace? The greatest pitcher of the generation. Over his career, Roger Clemens struck out 4672 hitters, won a record seven Cy Young awards and won back-to-back triple crowns as a Toronto Blue Jay in 1997 and 1998. Clemens, like Piazza, was a brickhouse of a human specimen and he had more than a hot head.

The Yankees-Mets always had a big brother, little brother feud going until 1997, when they started to regularly go head-to-head. In the first ever “Subway Series” game that year, Dave Mlicki hurled a complete game shutout for the Mets in the Bronx.

By 2000, there was enough heat to make even 2001 Sean Waltman look cold. Piazza? Well, Mike Piazza made Roger Clemens look like the Pittsburgh Pirates version of Chris Archer.

The grandslam was June of 2000. This next clip is from a month later.

The climax, however, waited until the whole country was watching in the World Series. With Andy Pettitte on the hill, the game went to the twelfth inning when Jose Vizcaino walked off Turk Wendle. The Yankees had taken Game One, which set up Roger Clemens for Game Two. Game Two was 20 years ago today.

Roger Clemens was excellent. Despite a 6-5 final on the strength of a five run ninth from the Mets on the Yankee bullpen, the Yankees held on to get Clemens the win after he hurled eight innings of shutout ball. Yet, it isn’t his performance from this game that people talk about him for, it’s what he did to Mike Piazza.

First off, Clemens has a history of some wild early inning playoff incidents. For example, he was ejected for arguing balls in strikes in the 1990 ALCS almost immediately after the game began.

Allow me to set the scene: it is a raucous crowd in the Bronx, perhaps the loudest crowd Clemens had ever pitched in front of. The Bleacher Creatures were ready for Clemens to do for a second straight year what he had tried to do for so long with two of their biggest divisional foes from 1984 to 1998. Mike Piazza, the ultimate Clemens killer, steps into the box. Clemens knows he has to saw him off, and he does. Chaos ensues.

Yes, Roger Clemens threw the sharp half of a shattered bat at Mike Piazza as Piazza ran out of the box on a ball that went foul, in the first inning, mind you. The benches cleared and Clemens was not ejected. He ended up getting Piazza to ground out on a checked swing to the second baseman.

Piazza hit a homerun in the ninth inning against reliever Jeff Nelson where the Mets failed their comeback bid and went back to Shea Stadium down 2-0. They would end up losing the series in five games.

After the game, Clemens swore that he thought the bat was the ball, which ultimately makes little-to-no sense. Roger Clemens is either a professional kickball player and thought he threw the ball at Clemens, or he intentionally chucked a sharp piece of wood. The latter would not be the surprising scenario considering Clemens well-documented anger conundrums.

As the series went five games, we never did receive a Game Six rematch. Yet, on this day, the Subway Series took centerstage two decades ago and it’s what the pitcher did with the bat in the American League ballpark that is forever etched in our minds.

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