Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Clemens, Piazza team up


National League starting pitcher Roger Clemens, right, of the Astros, and American League starting pitcher Mark Mulder of the Athletics meet in Houston, Texas, Monday. They face off today in the 75th Major League All-Star Game.


At least Mike Piazza will be wearing a mask, shinguards and a chest protector when Roger Clemens throws at him on Tuesday.

From the very first pitch, this All-Star game will provide one of baseball's most intriguing scenarios: Clemens and Piazza, together again.

With their feud still seemingly unresolved from 2000 -- Clemens beaned Piazza in the regular season, then threw the jagged barrel of a broken bat toward him in the World Series -- they have no choice but to work together. The Rocket will start for the National League, his nemesis will catch.

"I don't know if we're going to be playing golf anytime soon," Piazza said Monday. "But we've got a job to do."

Said Clemens: "It's not that big a deal. It's not an issue."

Both players tried to deflect attention to other All-Star themes, such as how the winner gets home-field advantage in the World Series and the presence of 500-homer guys Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.

Miguel Tejada outslugged that trio to win the Home Run Derby on Monday night. The Baltimore shortstop beat Houston's Lance Berkman in the final round, with both of them launching shots completely out of Minute Maid Park and onto Crawford Street.

Earlier in the day, all 14 living members of the 500-homer club gathered at the ballpark once known as Enron Field. Standing next to Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mark McGwire, commissioner Bud Selig praised the power hitters and intoned, ``This is a golden era.''

But when Ichiro Suzuki steps in to lead off the 75th All-Star game, chances are all the attention will be on Clemens and Piazza.

Will Clemens shake off Piazza? Will he accidentally bounce a split-finger fastball? Will they get their signs crossed?

See the game!

* ESPN Taiwan will broadcast the 75th Major League All-Star Game live today at 8am

* Rebroadcasts at 5pm, 8:30pm and tomorrow at 7:30am

"Obviously, we're going to have to talk," Piazza said.

Clemens said he'd take the same approach he would with any catcher.

"I'm sure we'll go over the first handful of hitters," the Houston ace said.

That might be the most involved discussion they've had in a while.

After hitting Piazza in the helmet with a fastball at Yankee Stadium, Clemens tried to phone the New York Mets star. But Piazza did not take the call, and the rift began to grow.

Then in Game 2 of the World Series, a truly bizarre scene occurred when Piazza shattered his bat and Clemens fired a piece of it in his direction. Clemens was fined US$50,000, and the pair have not spoken since.

Clemens appeared to grow more agitated Monday with each question about Piazza, and there were plenty.

Asked whether he could understand why fans might find this such so interesting, Clemens abruptly responded, "No, I don't."

"I'm pitching with him now, we are on the same team, so pretty much it's not a story," he said. "As far as Mike and I are concerned, I've said many times, I'm looking forward to it. I'm glad I get to throw it to him and I don't have to face him because I know what type of hitter he is."

Piazza stared blankly when asked about the pairing.

"The issue ... I don't know what the issue is," he said. "It's out of my control. It's out of our control. Honestly, I haven't really thought about it much and I don't think he has, either."

Others have, though.

"It is ironic," Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin said. "But as ballplayers, those things happen and you move on."

Like many fans, Los Angeles catcher Paul Lo Duca has seen umpteen replays of the Clemens-Piazza shenanigans. Last year, Lo Duca had a run-in with Milton Bradley, then with the Cleveland Indians. Now, they're teammates and just fine together.

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