Timo's Dance Roger's Trance

Transfixing a City and a Game

Rarely, however, does baseball's human interest quotient exceed that of Game 2, which was yet another reason I was glad to take it in at home. As you may have read, the biggest moment of the game, if not the year 2000, occurred in the very first inning, when Mike Piazza fouled away a strike-two pitch by Roger Clemens. For the record, I opposed the 1999 Clemens deal as Steinbrennerian name acquisition; not only do I miss David Wells, I miss Homer Bush, and I've never liked the big lunk, although once his fastball came back to him he was certainly hard to hate. But I don't believe he was throwing at Piazza, on July 8 or October 22. As Tim McCarver—a groundbreaking announcer who's taught me more about baseball than anyone except my father, but who should take some understatement lessons from Joe Morgan before his next network gig—pontificated on about the horror of it all, the endless replays clearly showed that Clemens was not flinging Piazza's sheared-off bat barrel "at" or even, in the meaningful sense of defining a target, "toward" him. Switching to MSG for the postgame, I found Clemens's account of his demented behavior as credible as Piazza's account of his sane response, and sussed for the first time that my basic problem with Clemens is that he's an alien—one of those rare athletes, like the magnificent Michael Jordan or the lamentable John McEnroe, who competes so intensely he occupies some other astral body. When Clemens, not exactly a verbal guy, avers that he was so "extremely fired up" he doesn't remember what he or anyone else said, it's obtuse to doubt him. Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity—maybe even permanent temporary insanity.

And oh yeah, what a hell of a game. For Clemens to gather himself for a two-hitter was miraculous, but he had his stuff. So I was just as impressed with Mike Hampton, the only pitcher to lie in the postgame—mindful of Game 6 and his upcoming contract, he insisted that the frigid weather hadn't affected him. Hampton had very little stuff, yet, down 3-0, surrendered just one tack-on run in innings three through six. Note that it would have been two if Timo hadn't made a bare-handed pick in right that nobody remembered later, and that O'Neill delivered a key hit after Hampton walked Posada intentionally, and had three all told. The extra runs mattered because the weary Yankee relievers gave up five of their own after Clemens stiffened in the cold and didn't come out for the ninth. As someone who argued going in that the Yanks' decisive advantage in this Series was Orlando Hernandez, who the right-handed Mets wouldn't have time to figure out before he beat them twice and who was slated to start Game 3, I'd been feeling for the Queens upstarts—New York deserved a long series, and so did they. But when Kurt Abbott looked at strike three to end the game it did wonders for that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It would be a bummer if the latest Clemens-Piazza brouhaha—fanned by a branch of journalism formally required, and not always for the worst, to make something out of nothing—were finally to foment the animosities said branch of journalism has been exaggerating since two never-say-die teams put the story in place. In that respect, I suppose it would have been more salutary for the Mets to come all the way back Sunday night, because a Mets victory would have transferred the struggle firmly back to the field. As it stands, even I'm afraid that if the new kids get swept, which as of Saturday morning seemed inconceivable given how tired the Yanks were and how tough we knew the Mets to be, real-life ugliness could erupt, on the field and off. And that would make two things I love look bad—my city and my game.

But I gotta tell ya. If El Duque wins Tuesday, as I predict he will, and David Cone starts Wednesday, which with the Yanks up 3-0 is just the kind of move sentimental grandpa Torre might make—well, I love David Cone. So of course I'll be rooting for him.

Only yeah, I'll also be rooting for Timo.

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