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Rocket-powered win

Roger Clemens dominates for eight innings, then Yanks hold off a Mets rally for a 2-0 World Series lead.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2000


NEW YORK -- The "stuff" Roger Clemens threw at Mike Piazza was the featured attraction Sunday night. But it was the pitches he threw to -- and past -- the other Mets batters that made the story complete.

Clemens continued to flush away memories of failed Octobers past with a dominant eight-inning shutout performance in Game 2 of the World Series, and the Yankees survived a furious ninth-inning rally to score a 6-5 victory.

The win, the Yankees' 14th in a row in Series play, pushed them halfway to a third consecutive Series championship, with Game 3 Tuesday night at Shea Stadium.

"This puts us in a good position," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "but not a guaranteed position."

"They won two here, but we can easily win three at home. That's why you play seven," Mets backup catcher Todd Pratt said. "Obviously we have a mountain to climb, but ever since I've been here we've been battlers."

While Clemens was stringing zeros, Yankees hitters were taking advantage of ineffectiveness by Mike Hampton, who labored through six innings, and sloppy defense by the Mets, who made three errors.

Tino Martinez had three hits, raising his post-season average to .381 (21-for-55), as did Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill, and Scott Brosius homered to lead the Yankees.

Clemens, bubbling with emotion, threw the barrel of Piazza's broken bat back at the Mets star during a bizarre first-inning incident, then threw unhittable pitches the rest of the night.

Clemens had a reputation for being less than his best in October, but it would be hard -- actually, ridiculous -- to do anything but marvel at his past two outings.

Sunday he allowed just two singles to Todd Zeile while striking out nine in eight innings. He allowed a second-inning single, then retired 15 of 17 until Zeile singled again in the seventh. Clemens threw first-pitch strikes to the first 10 hitters he faced, didn't walk a man, and allowed one runner as far as second base.

All this after a one-hit, 15-strikeout complete game victory against Seattle in pivotal Game 4 of the AL Championship Series.

"To be honest with you if I didn't have the stuff I did tonight it would have been hard work," Clemens said. "I had stuff similar to what I had in Seattle."

There had been a barrage of talk, articles and video clips all week about the possibility of revenge and retribution for Clemens hitting Piazza in the head with a pitch in a July 8 game, so much so that Clemens acknowledged afterward that he was too fired up.

With the Yankee Stadium crowd of 56,059 in full voice, Piazza fell behind Clemens 1-and-2 in the first inning, then broke his bat on a grounder that went foul. The barrel of the bat bounced toward the mound, where Clemens picked it up and threw it in Piazza's general direction.

The Yankees version was that Clemens didn't expect Piazza to be running on a foul ball and was just trying to throw the bat toward the on-deck circle. "No intent," Clemens said. The umpires, in a statement, agreed, and Torre got visibly angry at suggestions to the contrary.

Players on the Mets bench, however, felt it was obvious Clemens was throwing the bat at their star. Piazza, who was running because he didn't know where the ball went, said he didn't know what to think. He took a few steps toward Clemens, prompting both benches to quickly empty.

"I was as shocked and confused as anybody," Piazza said. "I went out there to ask him what his problem was. I got no response. It was bizarre."

Clemens insisted his emotions got the better of him, so much so that he "went and sat in a room by myself for a while." Some, though, thought he threw the bat much for the same reason he throws inside -- to intimidate.

"I don't think there was intimidation," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "You think that's why we didn't get any hits? I think it was a 95-mile-an-hour fastball and a hell of a split(-finger pitch) with control."

Clemens left after eight innings, his back tightening on a cold night where temperatures were 49 degrees at the start of the game and went down from there.

Piazza went 0-for-3 against Clemens, grounding out, popping out, and getting robbed when leftfielder David Justice made a sliding catch of a sixth-inning line drive. But he got revenge, and got the Mets' ninth-inning rally going, with a two-run home run off Jeff Nelson in the ninth.

A Robin Ventura single forced the Yankees to go to usually automatic closer Mariano Rivera, but it wasn't an easy finish.

Todd Zeile hit a fly ball that Clay Bellinger caught at the top of the leftfield wall. Benny Agbayani singled, but Rivera caught Ventura at the plate after a grounder.

Good thing, because Jay Payton followed with a three-run home run to pull the Mets within 6-5. Rivera recovered to strike out Kurt Abbott to end the game.

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