Could the Mets/Yankees soap opera finally be over?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Sports Columnist

Finally the soap opera is over.


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Or at least until the New York Mets meet the New York Yankees again.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t been watching a whole lot of ESPN, or any other sports highlights for that matter, during the last week.

The Yankees traveled across town Saturday to face the Mets in what became a media circus of epic proportions. You can always tell when it’s a slow week for sports. That’s when stories that should be "oh and by the way" turn into "our top story tonight".

What was the big whoop about Saturday’s game, you ask?

Well, it all started in July of 2000. The introduction of interleague play allows the Mets and Yankees to meet on the playing field without facing off in the World Series. Legendary fireballer Roger Clemens is on the mound pitching to the always dangerous Mike Piazza. Clemens, never one to shy away from the "brushback" pitch if he feels a batter is crowding the plate (or maybe even just to rattle his cage a little), drills Piazza in the head early in the game, sending Piazza to the dirt. Naturally, Mets fans didn’t take kindly to their star being beaned and I’m sure Piazza himself wasn’t crazy about it, either.

Later that same season, as fate would have it, the two teams wind up in the World Series together. And naturally, the hype began to build as fans anticipated the Clemens/Piazza rematch. The bad blood that may have already existed between the two reached the boiling point in the first inning.

Piazza fouled a pitch down the first base line, which shattered his bat, sending the splintered barrel flying toward Clemens. In what appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction, Clemens scooped up the jagged projectile and hurled it toward the first base line, several feet in front of Piazza, who was watching the ball. Those who wanted to see it that way said that he was throwing the bat at Piazza and the resulting standoff seemed to further prove these two men just don’t like each other.

Thanks once again to interleague play, and maybe a little fate, the Yankees traveled to Shea Stadium on Saturday and guess who just happened to be on the mound. Further heightening interest this time, though, was one other factor not present in the previous meetings.

In interleague play, the game is played according to the rules governing the home team. That means that an American League team cannot use a designated hitter in a National League park.

Roger Clemens would have to step into the batter’s box against a Mets’ pitcher. And any true fan of baseball knows that a pitcher is expected, even obligated, to exact revenge for a teammate who gets hit by a pitch. No matter whether the original pitch slipped or was a "purpose pitch".

Poor Shawn Estes. He wasn’t even a New York Met when all this mess started. Now he found himself with unenviable task of being expected, by teammates and fans alike, to fire a baseball at a guy who may have been one of his idols. Not to mention a guy who probably outweighs him a good 30 pounds, who has been known to have a short fuse at times, and who he will also have to stand in the batter’s box against in just a few minutes.

As expected, the first pitch to Clemens was insideway inside. In fact, so far inside that it went behind him, prompting the umpire to warn Estes and both benches. The point of the pitch was clear and whether Estes tried to drill Clemens and missed or whether he chose the high road by proving his point without causing harm or a brawl, he proceeded to strike Clemens out.

But if you thought that ended the saga, think again. Many in the baseball world felt that Estes proved nothing, practically accusing him of "wimping out". ESPN’s Rob Dibble (aptly nicknamed "Nasty Boy"), implied that anything other than a successful head shot was a failure, saying that he should have tried again on the next pitch even though he knew it would get him thrown out. Even Mets’ manager Bobby Valentine was shown displaying his disappointment after the failed attempt.

Whatever your opinion on the matter is, I believe that Estes, Piazza, and company exacted their revenge on Clemens the way it should be done ­ on the field and on the scoreboard.

Estes bunted in the first run of the game, as Clemens forgot to cover the plate on the catcher’s throw to first. Then in the fifth, Estes hit a two-run homer off Clemens. Not to be outdone, Clemens ripped a double in the top of the sixth, only to be one-upped by his arch-nemesis Piazza, who belted a solo homer of his own in the bottom of the same inning. Clemens left the game that inning after bruising his foot covering first base on an infield grounder.

In the end, the Mets needed the win more than they needed revenge and by Estes remaining in the game he allowed only five hits in seven innings while striking out 11 on the way to an 8-0 win.

If he had plunked Clemens, as many wanted, this feud would probably have picked right back up the next time they meet. But by putting Clemens in his place in the proper way, we most likely have seen the end of the Piazza vs. Clemens rematches.