Clemens Feels the Noose of Mets' Fans Feelings

Mets fans made their feelings about Roger Clemens, and whether retribution for his beaning of Mike Piazza in 2000 should be meted out Saturday, well before the game started. As I nestled into my seat in the loge box section, around 12:30pm, the stadium was pretty close to capacity crowd. A friend tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards the mezzanine section. A blow-up doll that had a Clemens jersey on it was suspended with a noose around its neck from the upper deck.

So much for "forgive and forget".

Then the Yankees line-up was announced. The crowd booed loudly when Derek Jeter's name was announced, as they were tired of his overly bombastic fist-pumping in Friday night's game. I thought those boos were loud, but when a picture of Clemens appeared on the scoreboard, announcing him as today's Yankee starting pitcher, the boos made Jeter's sound like those from an empty stadium.

Looking around the stands, I saw mostly good-natured back-and-forth sparring between Mets fans and Yankee fans. One Mets fan, wearing a "Yankees Suck" t-shirt playfully blocked the path of a Yankees fan in the aisles, but both knew the other was kidding. I think. Then the game started. Shawn Estes, who had been acquired in a trade during the off-season last year and was nowhere near any of the events that happened in 2000 was pitching with an unusual burden. Avenge something that happened to a current teammate 2 years ago. When it had become known that it was his turn in the rotation, the media descended on him like a pack of wolves, wanting to know what he would do. Estes had kept quiet, naturally, since saying something like "I want to leave him sitting there at home plate hearing tweeting canaries after I plunk a fastball in his earflap." would naturally attract the attention of the watchdogs of Major League Baseball. Estes also had an added onus- the Mets were struggling and he had to try to stop their recent free-fall, which had seen them fall 7 games behind the Braves.

Estes started off very well, with Alfonso Soriano chasing the first pitch of the game and popping it up in foul ground where Mo Vaughn settled under it and caught it easily for the first out. Then Estes struck out both Jeter and Jason Giambi to end the inning, with the crowd rising to its feet and roaring after each strikeout.

Then Clemens strode to the mound to begin his warm-up tosses. Well. To say that the crowd booed was an understatement. The boos drowned out the taped public service announcement. I could only lip-read Mike Piazza's part where he said, "Please, let us do our jobs the best we can." In a side note, I think Piazza is an improvement on that part of the announcement. Glendon Rusch had it last year, and his performance was so wooden as to be comical. He stood with his shoulders in a seemingly exaggerated military pose staring straight at the camera and talked in the most deadening monotone. "Let…us…do…the…best…job…we…can.."

Clemens didn't seem to be fazed by the booing, as he struck out Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo in succession, although Alfonzo did fight off a lot of pitches before finally whiffing on strike three. Clemens then got Roberto Alomar to end the inning.

In the second inning, people in the stands began to noticeably look at the scoreboard to see if Clemens was going to have a chance to bat. Bernie Williams led off the inning with a rocket to left field that Roger Cedeno wasn't able to handle as he tried to catch the ball and minimize the impact of running into the wall. The ball skipped away and only an alert Perez, who was trailing Cedeno on the play, was able to keep Williams from getting a triple out of the play. After Jorge Posada flew out to Burnitz, Williams stole third base while Rondell White was batting. The crowd noticeably deflated at the stolen base, as they envisioned the Yankees stealing bases at will on Piazza again. I even heard one or two people in my section yell, "PUT PIAZZA AT FIRST!" I'd have to agree. While some may say that it's partly the pitcher's fault as some of them have high leg kicks, Piazza's throws aren't close to getting any runners. The Yankees failed to score though, as White and Ron Coomer both struck out.

The next big crowd reaction came in the bottom of the second, when Piazza led off the inning. Just an incredible standing ovation. Pity that Piazza wasn't able to capitalize on the emotions, as he was just a little behind on an outside fastball and flied out to right. He still got some cheers as he made his way back into the dugout. Clemens then struck out Vaughn, his former Red Sox teammate. Jeromy Burnitz came to the plate, in the midst of a horrible batting slump. How bad has he been hitting lately? He asked for hitting advice from Mario Mendoza (rim shot). He actually got a hit here, inching him closer to .200 for the season. Only the fact that he has such a good outfield glove has kept Bobby Valentine from throwing him into the doghouse and locking it up. Unfortunately Cedeño, who really hasn't been hitting or fielding well enough to stay in the line-up, flied out to end the inning.

The crowd then came to life in between innings, when Estes was warming up. Clemens is going to bat this inning…it's going to finally happen. I looked up at the mezzanine section. The hanging effigy of Roger was gone. Oh well. Then the inning started. Shane Spencer led off, and it seemed like every Met fan was thinking Oh please, don't let him get on base. If Spencer got on, there was no way Estes could plunk Clemens, because putting runners on first and second with no outs in a scoreless game is, well, stupid. Spencer hit a wicked ground ball shot right at Alfonzo, who managed to make a nifty semi-spinning catch and recovered to throw out Spencer. It was time. Roger walked to the plate, and it seemed that everyone in attendance got to their feet at once to watch this. I looked around. The entire field level seats were a sea of people standing. Then as Clemens got into the box, it was as if the crowd turned their volume to 11, so to speak. The boos thundered down on Clemens. A fan in the field level stood there holding a sign reaiding "HIT HIM IN THE EARFLAP!" Estes looked in to Piazza for the sign, as if he actually needed one. What's the sign for Throw it at him? Estes wound up and threw the ball, and as it left his hand, it seemed the entire stadium held their breath. The pitch headed towards Clemens, who half-shifted, half-braced to be hit, and the pitch missed him, being a few inches behind Clemens. Wally Bell, the home plate umpire, immediately sprang out from behind the plate, pointed at Estes, then pointed at both dugouts. A warning. Next person that got hit, the other team's pitcher and manager would be ejected. The fans didn't seem to register that though, as more of a collective Huh? HE MISSED? rippled through the crowd. With the option to hit Clemens removed, Estes then struck him out, and the crowd took some solace in jeering Clemens as he made his way to the dugout. A guy with a cowbell made his way up the aisle and another guy with a novelty mannequin head that looked like a severed head came right behind him. On the head was a Yankee cap and taped on the neck was a sign that said CLEMENS. Yeah, yeah, we know, you want Clemens head on a platter. That's original.

With my stomach growling, I decided to get some food, and while standing in line, I saw Clemens make a bad mental mistake. After Rey Ordonez led off the inning with a double, Estes squared around to bunt. The bunt was fielded and thrown to first to get Estes, but Ordonez, who had advanced to third noticed there was no one covering the plate, and scampered in to score easily. The Mets fans in line cheered while the Yankee fans grumpily tried to downplay the lapse Clemens had committed.

When I made it back to my seat, the Mets were back on the field. I had to get a hot dog, as the pizza had run out and there was a 20-minute wait for a new pie. I don't think so. The people in the pizza place only seem to plan for one inning, and they run out by the second. Minor gripe there.

Piazza had another crack at Clemens in the fourth, and again came up short. More polite applause from the fans though. It was in the bottom of the fifth inning that things exploded. After Cedeno atoned for his earlier poor at-bat by doubling, Ordonez flied out, and that brought up Estes. So far Clemens hadn't done anything to indicate that he might try to retaliate for what had happened. Estes seemed to pick up on that and took a big rip at Clemens' first offering. He hit a long looping line drive down the line. The fans surged forward, urging the ball to drop into fair ground, and almost certain double if it did. The ball landed, and the umpire raised both hands to indicate "Foul Ball". The crowd sank back, sighing. It wasn't likely that Estes was going to get anything to hit now. But something odd happened. Estes looked comfortable at the plate, battling Clemens, and then finally, he hit a deep fly ball to left. It was high, and arching. The crowd again got on its feet. If this ball was fair, it had a chance. And it was fair, and it was a home run. Shea Stadium predictably exploded with noise, fans running around high-fiving each other. And then it started. The Roger chant.

This chant is hard to describe in how humiliating and mocking it can be. I first heard it when I was in Fenway Park for Game Three of the '99 Playoffs between the Yankees and Red Sox. This was Roger's first playoff game for the Yankees, and he was up against Pedro Martinez, the Sox's godlike pitcher. And Red Sox fans do NOT like Clemens, as he had a very bitter departure from Boston and basically treated the Boston fans like an afterthought. That day in '99, the funny thing was, Clemens was very mortal that day. He had dominated the Sox in his previous starts, but the hits were falling in and runs were scoring. And then the chant started. It started off only with a few fans, but then it was all of Fenway Park. It was just "Roger, Roger" in a long, drawn out chant. "Roooooooogeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr, Rooooooooooogerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" And hearing 34,000 fans all at once..wow. It was just so mocking and devastating to a psyche. And that was what was happening at Shea, but adding 20,000 more fans to this chant just made it all the more effective.

Clemens shrugged off the home run, and actually extracted a bit of revenge of his own by doubling off Estes with a swing that made a rusty gate look good. He advanced to third on a Soriano single, and even had a chance to try to score when Jeter hit a fly ball to right. Piazza seemed to be standing there at the plate almost daring Clemens to try to score. The fans seemed disappointed that there was no football-style collision, even letting out an audible sigh. Clemens was ultimately stranded when Estes bore down to strike out Giambi and get Posada to ground into a fielder's choice.

Piazza then did in the sixth inning what fans had wanted him to do for two years. No, not run out to the mound and pound Clemens senseless with a bat, although that was probably choice number two. He hit a Clemens fastball high and deep to left, the crowd rising to their feet as one, and when the ball cleared the fence and over a jumping Rondell White for a solo home run, once again the cheers cascaded onto the field, fans jumping around happily. And then as Vaughn settled into the batter's box, the "Rooooooooooger, Roooooooooooooger" chants started up again. There was a visit to the mound. More jeers. Vaughn then grounded out to first, and Burnitz did the same. Then as Cedeño was getting ready to hit, Joe Torre came out to the mound, followed by the Yankees trainer. Both Yankee and Mets fans were abuzz. Is Roger hurt? How'd he get hurt? Eventually Clemens left the mound with Torre and the trainer. More boos and chants, and then it was over. Ted Lilly came in.

So the whole Clemens affair was over, and although the Mets went on to score four more runs off of Yankees relievers, it seemed almost anti-climatic. After the game was over, I sat and reflected for a bit. Did the Mets accomplish what they wanted? They didn't hit Clemens, but they got their point across with the brushback pitch. They especially humiliated him with Estes' home run. Piazza must have felt a good measure of revenge from his home run too. And Mets fans were happy to both drub and blank the Yankees in a game.

It ended, and although there was jeering and taunting, the crowd was relatively calm. I compare this to World Cup fans, who redefine the word intensity. There was mostly civility. Until next weekend, when Clemens likely will pitch against the Mets at Shea, that is. Anybody need a blow-up doll with a Clemens jersey? The noose is optional.

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