I know it may be hard to believe but it has been nearly 15 years since Roger Clemens threw at Mike Piazza's head. The pitch, which knocked Piazza to the ground where he laid motionless for a few moments, not only gave the Mets catcher a concussion but it caused a new rivalry to be born. And that night, July 8, 2000, set the tone for our #20 Top Moment of the Derek Jeter Era.
After that incident, Roger Clemens was persona non grata in Queens. People were accusing him of being a headhunter and Mets manager Bobby Valentine said that he believed Clemens purposely threw at Piazza's head because he (Piazza) had been successful against Clemens in the past. Clemens claimed that he just wanted to pitch Piazza inside, waist-high and that the ball got away from him. The incident caused quite a stir that summer and wouldn't you know it? Three months later, the two teams from New York both made it to the World Series to face off in the first Subway Series (playoff edition) since 1956.
So not only was there the drama of it being the first Subway Series since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games all those years prior - before the Mets even existed - but you now had the Clemens factor. And while the much-anticipated Clemens-Piazza rematch didn't actually happen until the second game of the series, it was nothing short of fiery when it did finally transpire.
The Yankees were up 1-0 in the series and looking to go up 2-0 at home and Clemens, who had a strong start against the Seattle Mariners in the League Championship Series, was looking for another playoff victory.
After Clemens had retired Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonso to begin the top of the first inning, Piazza stepped up to the plate. Fox was broadcasting the game and made the moment more dramatic by replaying the clips of Clemens using Piazza’s noggin for target practice but nothing quite prepared the broadcasters, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver; the viewing audience, and the crowd at Stadium, for what happened next.
The at bat started off uneventfully. The first three pitches Clemens threw to Piazza didn't go anywhere near him - two called strikes over the plate and a ball low and away. But with the count 1-2, things became dicey.
Clemens's fourth pitch resulted in a foul ball to the first base side which bounced off the far side of the railing in front of the Yankees dugout. But, that’s not all. The bat also shattered as Piazza hit the ball - picture a helpless bat against a Mo Rivera cutter - and for some reason, Clemens picked up a large chunk of the bat which he had just jumped to avoid and fired it in the direction of Piazza who was running up the first baseline.
Piazza immediately, and understandably, went after Clemens who acted like he had no idea what was going on. The whole situation was extremely bizarre to watch unfold. Both of the benches emptied, Piazza who looked like he wanted to kill Clemens, had to be held back by a few people, while Clemens, for his part, still acted surprised that people were mad at him.
The people around baseball who had been defending Clemens after the July incident where now left to wonder if he really was trying to kill Mike Piazza. Even poor Piazza was probably wondering the same thing.
After the game, Clemens told reporters that he was fired up, filled with nervous energy and that he thought the bat was the ball so he threw it.
When order was finally restored to the game, Clemens calmly set Piazza down on a grounder to Jose Vizcaino on the very next pitch and the top of the inning was over.
The rest of the game, was pretty calm compared to that crazy moment when Clemens mistook a piece of wood for a baseball and nearly nailed Piazza for the second in a season. Even the Mets nearly mounting a comeback with a 5-run ninth inning against Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera, was pretty lackluster when matched up against the weirdness of Clemens vs. Piazza II.
The Yankees won the game 6-5 earning Clemens his second win in the playoffs that year and they went up 2-0 in the series.