'Rocket' fires away at Mets

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Clemens gives Yanks 2-0 lead

By Evan Grant / The Dallas Morning News

NEW YORK – There are several subway trains that stop at Yankee Stadium, including the No. 4, the "B" and the "D."

The New York Yankees prefer to travel via the "K" train. It is, after all, an express.

Using a blazing fastball, a trap-door split-finger pitch and a dash of intimidation, Roger Clemens drove the train Sunday. He powered the New York Yankees to a 6-5 win over the New York Mets in Game 2 of the first Subway World Series in 44 years.

The Yankees lead the best-of-7 series, 2-0, and have won their last 14 World Series games. Game 3 is Tuesday at the Mets' home, Shea Stadium.

The Yankees had to cling to the victory because relievers Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera allowed five ninth-inning runs. Kurt Abbott was called out on strikes to end the game.

The near-collapse in the ninth inning threatened to ruin an overpowering performance by Clemens, nicknamed "Rocket."

He allowed just two hits in eight innings – both harmless singles by former Ranger Todd Zeile – and struck out nine. In his last two starts, Clemens has allowed three hits and struck out 24 in 17 scoreless innings.

While Clemens' stuff was overpowering, the piece of a broken bat he fired back at Mike Piazza in the first inning overshadowed the stuff. The two have a history dating to July when Clemens hit Piazza in the helmet with a fastball. A potential confrontation between the two was one of the Subway Series' tantalizing subplots.

It wasn't a subplot for long. It happened in the first inning, though Clemens didn't throw inside at Piazza. Piazza splintered his bat on foul ground ball. The head of the bat headed straight for Clemens, who picked it up and fired the bat toward Piazza's feet. Piazza, stunned by the gesture, slowly walked toward the mound. The benches emptied. Nothing happened, though.

But Clemens apparently had gotten his message through. It was a simple one: Don't even think about messing with Big Tex.

Clemens had already struck out leadoff hitter Timo Perez and No. 2 hitter Edgardo Alfonzo to start the game. The strikeout parade continued. After allowing a one-out, second-inning single to Zeile, he struck out Benny Agbayani and Lenny Harris to end the second.

"When I'm on the mound, I'm serious about it," Clemens said. "Physically, I'm going to try to beat you. Mentally, I'm going to try and beat you. Emotionally, I'm going to try and beat you."

Clemens had used a similar pattern to drive the Yankees to a series-turning win against Seattle in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

In that game, Clemens threw a pitch near the head of All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez in the first inning.

With Rodriguez a bit intimidated, Clemens cleared the path for a dominating performance. He held the Mariners hitless for six innings before Al Martin singled to start the seventh. Clemens still finished with a one-hitter and struck out 15, an ALCS record.

Clemens' dominating performance combined with the Yankees' quick offensive start put the Mets in a precarious spot for the remainder of the game. By the end of the second inning, the Yankees had a 3-0 lead. With Clemens on the mound, that was a huge deficit for the Mets.

The Yankees scored twice in the first with a two-out rally against Mets starter Mike Hampton. A Florida native who lives in Houston, Hampton looked uncomfortable in the 49-degree game-time temperature. After getting the first two outs in the first inning, Hampton walked David Justice and Bernie Williams on eight pitches.

As is their practice, the Yankees seized upon the opportunity. Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada, the Nos. 5 and 6 hitters, followed with consecutive run-scoring singles. In the second, Scott Brosius, the No. 8 hitter, led off with a home run. All six Yankees runs were driven in by the bottom half of the order.

That was the difference Sunday. Against the Mets, the bottom of the Yankees' order took advantage of its chances. Against Clemens, the Mets had no chance.