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Rocket rewriting postseason history books

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NEW YORK -- There was the opener that was right there with first games in 1988 (Kirk Gibson), 1977 (Yankees over Dodgers in 12 innings) and 1954 (Willie Mays and The Catch), and a second game in which Roger Clemens threw out a performance that goes back to Tom Glavine's Game 6 performance in 1995.

"But all we hear," says Derek Jeter, "is that the only two people in this series are Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza. It's a shame, because this is a great series between two great teams that has had some tremendous moments."

There is no rationalization of what happened when Clemens fired the bat Sunday night. There's no rationalization of Clemens in baseball terms because Clemens pitches like Lawrence Taylor or a glass-eating special teams guy on the opening kickoff. Mike Boddicker used to say, "When the rest of us pitch, it's a game, but with Roger, every fifth day is Texas vs. Oklahoma." When he made his first start in Toronto, the PA announcer introduced him as "... and pitching ... from the University of Texas ... 6-foot-4, 230 pounds ... number 21, Roger 'The Rocket' Clemens." Roger wrote it out himself.

Clemens never saw Piazza running down the first-base line; he never even considered the possibility of Piazza being there because he knew where the foul ball went. But after grunting and cursing Timo Perez for a fake bunt attempt, he threw three 98-mph fastballs to Piazza, the third of which shattered the bat, with the head flying to the mound.

That was a distraction he didn't want to deal with. He caught it and fired it out of the way as if it were an annoyance and went back to his showdown with Piazza, whom he clearly dislikes for the "I no longer have any respect" comments after the beaning in July and what Clemens felt was Piazza's intentional refusal to take his apology telephone call. "Roger is a lot more insecure than he lets on," says one Yankee. "That feeds him."

Piazza was shocked, and he's going to play all this out to keep Roger and Pedro Martinez from pitching him where they have to pitch him -- inside -- because he's one Hall of Famer trying to beat two others he knows can beat him inside. Rick Reed and others suggested that Clemens should have been ejected. Why not? The Mets couldn't touch him, and they were so psyched out they were the first team ever to complain about the lights on the center-field cameras, according to the camera crew.

"They talk about intent," said one Yankee. "What about the pitch with which Mike Hampton hit David Justice? That was intentional, but David just got up and took it."

Some of this has to do with the media, the Bobby Valentine-philes who demean Hall of Famer Joe Torre. And Piazza is smart and accessible and knows how to play the starry-eyed glitzophiles -- as opposed to Clemens, who sometimes talks in circles, defers to no one and is often not accessible because of his rigid work schedule.

It may be to Clemens' benefit that the Mariners and Mets have combined to hit two balls decently in two games -- Al Martin's double and Piazza's sinking liner that was caught by the sliding Justice -- because they think this 38-year-old guy with the mouthguard who talks to himself on the mound is the character he played in the great movie "Cobb." But it's also unfortunate that while people trash Clemens' postseason history, the fact remains that in 16 starts he has allowed no runs five times, one run twice, two runs once and three runs twice.

He's taken cheap shots back in Boston from Dan Duquette, who was quoted as being disappointed that Clemens didn't start at Shea -- maybe Duquette thinks he knows more about the Yankees' rotation than Torre does -- and that the pitch that hit Piazza "was intentional." Duquette also said the Yankees are "vulnerable," which prompted to David Cone to ask, "If we are so vulnerable, how come we beat Pedro Martinez three times?"

"Why is Dan so hung up on me?" asks Clemens. "He got what he wanted -- he got rid of me because I was in the twilight of my career." A twilight so dark that Clemens has two Cy Young Awards and four postseason wins since leaving, just one less than the Red Sox. That allowed the Red Sox to go sign Ramon Martinez, Bret Saberhagen, Jeff Fassero, Steve Ontiveros, Pete Schourek, Steve Avery and a number of others who weren't in the twilight but instead in the closing times of their careers.

Oh yes. Duquette paid more to Saberhagen and Ramon this season than George Steinbrenner paid Clemens, but as several Yankees laughed, the one game last October in which Pedro beat Roger at Fenway serves as Boston's idea of a world championship.

There may be a reprise to the Clemens-Hampton showdown, because every Met believes Reed will come up huge in Game 3. Then they think they can beat Denny Neagle in Game 4 and make this a series.

"In some ways, all this other stuff makes it easier for the rest of us," says Mike Bordick.

Catching some news
Jorge Posada is a huge factor in this series, not just because in his last plate appearances he's had three hits and three walks. It's his catching, and his ability to set up late in the delivery. "It's such an important part of the game," says Posada. "You don't want hitters to get the feel of the catcher, or if there are runners on base, you don't want to give the runners a chance to signal the batter on location." Yankee pitchers rave about Posada's ability to set up quietly, softly and late.

On the other hand, one NL pitcher thinks a factor in this series is the tendency of Piazza and Todd Pratt to set up early. "Look at the at-bats of their left-handers against Al Leiter and Mike Hampton," says the pitcher. "They're getting tips from runners, peeking or just feeling where Pratt and Piazza are because they're there so long." Examples include the Justice at-bat off Leiter, the Tino Martinez single off Dennis Cook's slider, and all the lefties' at-bats.

From the notebook

  • The Mets think they have a great shot at Alex Rodriguez because of A-Rod's respect for and relationship with Robin Ventura, one of the most-respected persons in the business.

  • The Yankees think they may have plans set for their new stadium in the Bronx within six months. "It has to be done while (Rudy) Giuliani is still in office," says one Yankees official.

  • Once again, the Mets organization is lavishing praise on their Dominican scout and coordinator, Eddie Toledo, for finding Timo Perez. Years ago, because he was GM of the Licey team in the Dominican, Toledo sent in reports on Perez. Then, when Perez's agent contacted the Mets last winter, while no one in the Mets office had seen him, Toledo recommended signing him. Perez's agent wanted $200,000, Toledo recommended $75,000, and they got him for $95,000.

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  • Gammons: Torre pushes right buttons

    Stark: Clemens cloud won't go away

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    Klapisch: Mets forget these are the Yankees

    Gammons: 2000 column archive

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