Yankees @ Mets Series Preview

For one Roger Clemens, it's time to pay the piper. Past debts are now due, to be paid in full. And the bill collectors are waiting. They'll be in the first base dugout tonight, wearing the white uniforms. Your payment is due in 24 hours. With all the talk of beanballs and retaliation, what has taken a back seat in Friday's renewal of the Subway Series at Shea Stadium between the Yankees and Mets are the games themselves, and their importance to both teams.

For as much as one would like to talk about baseball, that's not the story this weekend at Shea Stadium. Or at least, not the lead story. Usually, the Yankees playing the Mets is good enough by itself, with enough drama, sub-plots, and plot twists to make any Broadway director jealous.

We can talk about how the Yankees are playing great baseball, 42-24 after winning two of three against Arizona, and only 1.5 games away from inevitably catching the Red Sox. We can talk about how the big money Mets have floundered for the second season in a row, how they are now in danger of totally falling off the radar screen in the National League East, and how this season will probably cost Steve Phillips, and possibly Bobby Valentine, their jobs come October. But the fact of the matter is, people in New York want to turn the clock back to July of 2000.

It was a summer night in Yankee Stadium, the second game of a day-night, two stadium doubleheader between the Big Apple rivals. Mike Piazza strode to the plate to face Roger Clemens, a pitcher he had owned in previous meetings, with three monster home runs. Clemens pulled out his 98 m.p.h.charge card and left an indelible "Rawlings" imprint on Piazza's forehead. Fast forward three months, and the city is buzzing with a Subway World Series. After a classic Game One, Clemens saws off Piazza with an inside heater, which leaves the barrel of the broken bat in the vicinity of Clemens' worksplace. In an instant, Clemens picks up the busted wood, and hurls it in Piazza's direction, leaving Piazza stunned and the Mets shocked. Clemens wasn't even warned, and for all intents and purposes, the Series was over right then.

For 20 months, the interest has been piling up on Roger's charge. And you know how those monthly interest charges can kill you if you don't pay off that balance. For one Roger Clemens, on Saturday afternoon, if will be time to take out the checkbook.

For the Mets, it could be the spark they need to right what has been a lifeless club that has fallen to 32-33 and 6 1/2 games back in the NL East. The Mets have played the Yankees relatively tough in Shea, winning seven of the 12 games between the teams.

Overall, the Yankees lead the series 15-9, including four of the six games in 2001. But three of the four wins were by one run, showing the closeness of the rivalry.

This series is also one of returns for the Yankees. Left-hander Andy Pettitte, who has made just three starts all season and has been out since April 15, returns from the disabled list to start Friday night's opener. And third baseman Robin Ventura returns to Shea, where he started for the Mets for three years before being dealt to the Yankees during the offseason. The Yankees are also hoping for the return of OF Rondell White, out since Monday with an injured finger. He'll take batting practice before Friday's game, and his availability will be determined then.

The Mets' struggles have been well-documented. Expected to receive a huge offensive boost after the acquisitions of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz, the team has struggled to a .246 batting average and has smacked just 49 home runs.

By comparison, the Yankees are hitting .275 with a major league leading 105 homers.

As if things weren't already bad enough, the Mets will face Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells in the three games.

In an attempt to turn things around, the Mets hired former Yankee star and hitting coach Chris Chambliss Thursday as their new hitting coach.

On the flip side, the Mets' pitching, which was supposed to be the weak spot, has shined. New starters Pedro Astacio and Jeff D'Amico have been outstanding and, more importantly, healthy, and go with Al Leiter, Shawn Estes and Steve Traschel to make up one of the NL's strongest staffs.

The Yankees will avoid facing Leiter and D'Amico, instead seeing Traschel, Estes and Astacio at Shea.

Pitching Match Ups

Friday's start has significant short-term and long-term effects for the Yankees. Andy Pettitte has looked sharp in minor league outings but is still a health concern after going on the DL with elbow tendonitis in early April. Pettitte has only started three games this season.

He started the year with six shutout innings in a win over Tampa Bay, but then struggled in the next two, lasting just 2 2/3 innings and giving up six hits and four runs against Toronto on April 10, then leaving his April 15 start against Boston after three innings, allowing five hits and two runs.

He hasn't exactly been untouchable against the Mets, with a 2-1 record and 5.34 ERA in five starts between 1999 and 2001.

The Mets counter with Steve Traschel, who has been up-and-down this year. Overall, the righty has a 4-6 mark and a 3.96 ERA but he has gone 1-2 in his last three starts, allowing 12 runs and 19 hits in 18 innings.

Traschel has pitched well against the Yankees, winning two of his three starts against them in 2000 while with Tampa Bay, and allowing just seven runs in 19 1/3 innings.

All eyes will be on the mounds for both teams Saturday as Roger Clemens makes his first start at Shea since the beaning incident in 2000. Equally compelling will be what Mets starter Shawn Estes does when Clemens comes to the plate. Despite not being a part of the team when the incident first occurred, Estes was a longtime Giant and played with Barry Bonds, who was plunked by Clemens last Sunday.

Clemens comes into Saturday's start with an 8-2 mark and a 3.57 ERA after extending his winning streak to seven with a strong start against the Giants, striking out nine in eight innings in a 4-2 win, but that fact seems to be overshadowed by the fact that he will have to bat in this game as well (but more on that below).

Estes, always an inconsistent pitcher with the Giants, has carried that to the Mets as well. The lefty is 2-5 with a 4.83 ERA in 12 starts. After falling to 1-4 on May 8, Estes seemed to have straightened himself out, going four starts without allowing more than three runs, before being hammered for six runs and seven hits in five innings in last Sunday's 8-3 loss to Cleveland.

Sunday night's game features a pair of seven-game winners as the Yankees get their first look at Pedro Astacio, who has posted the Mets' best pitching numbers of the season.

The Yankees counter with David Wells, now 7-3 after snapping a two-start losing streak by beating Arizona 6-4 on Tuesday. It was the third straight start of at least seven innings for Wells since he missed one start and left another early with back pain in mid-May.

Astacio, who has always pitched well even in tough places like Coors Field in Colorado, where he was staff ace for nearly four years, has been sensational for the Mets in 2002. His 2.72 ERA ranks him fourth in the National League: ahead of both Curt Schilling (2.79) and Randy Johnson (2.81)!

A Closer Look

While much has been made of the bad blood between the teams, and particularly Clemens and Mike Piazza, there's a legitimate reason -- at least in baseball circles -- why Clemens decided to pitch Piazza inside in that 2000 meeting. Piazza has owned Clemens in interleague games, going 7-for-12 with three homers and 9 RBI. Piazza particularly hammered Clemens in the two meetings in 1999, leading the Mets to two wins over the Yankee ace that year.

The at-bat in which Piazza was hit, in fact, was his first against Clemens since he had hit a tie-breaking three-run home run against Clemens at Shea in the second 1999 meeting, giving the Mets a 5-2 win.

Strangely, of the Met hitters due to face Clemens Saturday, only Piazza and the team's two singles hitters, Roger Cedeno (5-for-9) and Rey Ordonez (3-for-8), have had any success against the righty. Alomar is 16-for-79 (.203) and ex-teammate Vaughn is just 3-for-25 with 10 strikeouts.

Despite those numbers, Clemens is just 1-3 against the Mets in Subway Series play.

Before getting into the issues at hand, there are two important facts that need to be addressed. Roger Clemens was initially drafted by the Mets, but did not sign (adding to the drama), and Clemens is a lifetime .125 hitter, and that is just for the regular season. His is 0 for 6 in the postseason. He has reached base safely a total of four times in his career. He makes Rey Ordonez look good. Why would the Mets want to give up an automatic out and give up a free base?

Does Roger Clemens pitch inside? Yes. Is he a headhunter? That is hard to say. Roger Clemens averages 78 walks per full season- that would lead one to believe that Clemens does not suffer from control problems. The beaning of Mike Piazza does look rather suspect, but in this country he is innocent unless otherwise proven. Nothing more will be said about Clemens as a headhunter.

However something should be said about Clemens pitching inside. "Good job, Roger." The game of baseball evolves. Sometimes it does not evolve fairly to all players, and in the past ten years, at least, batters have crept closer and closer to home plate, so that many of them are standing almost on top of it. This benefits hitters in two obvious ways. 1) Batters have an easier time hitting outside pitches, and 2) standing so close to the plate makes it hard for a pitcher to pitch inside. If a pitcher does try to pitch inside, the result is either a hit batter, or an "acted out ball," or at least a nasty look from the hitter. An "acted out ball" (for lack of a better term) is when the batter acts like the pitch is a ball, and the umpire gives it to him, even if the pitch is in the officially defined strike zone.

So if Clemens has to "fight back" a little to reclaim the inside strike, it is hard to blame him. If a guy like Barry Bonds wears enough batting armor so that he can crowd the plate even more and not worry about getting hurt by a pitch, Clemens has a right to throw inside to try to move him off the plate. Does this forgive Clemens if he -hypothetically- throws at someone's head? No- it's a completely different situation.

With all the media attention, don't expect Clemens to be throwing at people's heads, but at the same time, expect him to throw inside. If there are any bean balls, it would be a good guess to see Mo Vaughn get hit, as he is one of the players who, like Bonds, hangs out on top of the plate wearing armor. If Vaughn is hit, remember, Clemens is just trying to claim the inside part of the plate, if Piazza is hit, one has to start to wonder...


The Mets placed RHP Grant Roberts on the 15-day disabled list June 13 (retroactive to June 9) with a right rotator cuff strain. To replace Roberts, the Mets recalled RHP Mark Corey rom Triple-A Norfolk...The Mets have hired former Yankee Chris Chambliss as batting coach to replace the fired Dave Engle...Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has the highest batting average in Subway Series games, hitting .326, followed by ex-Yankee Scott Brosius (.309) and Piazza (.301). Piazza leads all hitters with six homers and 19 RBIs. On the pitching side, Leiter and Pettitte, along with Yankee reliever Ramiro Mendoza, have three wins to lead in that category. And Mariano Rivera, on the disabled list with an injured groin, has 11 saves in the Yankees' 15 wins. … Rivera, on the DL with a strained right groin since Monday, is expected to accompany the team on its 12-game road trip instead of going off to rehab in Tampa, Fla., something that Yankee manager Joe Torre said is a good sign.... Orlando Hernandez, out with a strained upper back, is scheduled to throw off a mound again today in Tampa, and if that goes well, he could be pitching in a rehab or simulated game perhaps as soon as Monday.

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