Show Time for Piazza, Clemens

The matchup you've been waiting for has finally arrived. Mike Piazza will be catching Roger Clemens in the All-Star Game. <P> In baseball's worst-kept secret, Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon announced Monday that he was tabbing Clemens, the Houston Astros' righthander, to take the hill for the National League in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Piazza was voted in as the NL's starting catcher. <P>

But while Piazza has said on numerous occasions that he views the pairing just as another work assignment, nobody knows for sure what can happen whenever these two get together.

That's something that the network suits at FOX will be praying for when they bring you the telecast Tuesday's contest: that something as dramatic as Piazza's July 2000 beaning or the shattered bat incident from Game Two of that year's World Series could happen.

Even if it doesn't – and that's probably the safe bet, as this is an exhibition game in every sense of the word (regardless of what Major League Baseball is trying to convince you about how This Time, It Counts … again) – the Piazza-Clemens pairing figures to draw thousands of extra viewers, now that it's final.

But at the moment, Piazza has bigger fish to fry than Clemens. Having been given just three days off in the first half, Piazza is understandably roasted both physically and mentally, and it's beginning to show in his performance.

Piazza could probably have used these three days off entirely, but he obviously wouldn't turn down a starting assignment when voted in overwhelmingly by the fans. Still, he's hitting just .189 through 10 games this month and hasn't homered since June 22 against the Cincinnati Reds, a span of 62 at-bats.

"I'm a little frustrated," Piazza said last week. "I don't feel like my bat speed is what it should be. I'm not going use that as an excuse, [but] that's the way it goes."

GO FOURTH: After threatening to move into a tie for first place with a win last Thursday over the Phillies, the Mets (44-43) have instead watched their record in the standings fall to fourth place in the NL East with three losses in their last four games heading into the All-Star Break.

The red-hot Braves, given up for dead a couple of months ago, have moved into second place, a game behind behind the struggling Phillies.

Florida, which beat the Mets in two out of three games at Pro Player Stadium this weekend, is third at 1-1/2 games back, while the Mets will trail Philadelphia by two games when play resumes Thursday.

THE BLADE GOES DOWN: Hot-hitting Ian Bladergroen of the Capital City (A) Bombers is done for the year, as he will undergo season-ending surgery to repair damaged ligaments in his right wrist. Bladergroen was second in the South Atlantic League with 74 RBI, and was batting .342 with 13 homers through 72 games.

NOTES: Florida's Dontrelle Willis improved to 5-0 with a 1.29 lifetime ERA against the Mets in Sunday's victory. … Richard Hidalgo's 13-game hitting streak was snapped Sunday. He was 20-for-50 with seven homers through those games. … David Wright went 1-for-3 in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game.

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