Warning: Don’t Mess With Mike Piazza
Remember all that moaning when Mike Piazza failed to defend himself against Roger Clemens back in the 2000 World Series? You remember, when Clemens threw the shattered piece of lumber that he thought was a baseball (wink, wink) in the general direction of Piazza’s kneecap?
It’s gone now, and that’s a great thing.
When Piazza dropped the fighting gloves last week and tried to chase down his new Grapefruit League arch-nemesis, Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota, it sent a message – just as it did last season, when Piazza put the punk pitcher into a chokehold at Vero Beach’s Holman Stadium.
The only difference: this year, when Piazza made his bug-eyed, muscle-swinging dash to the mound, the rest of the Mets were right there behind him, with the charge led by raging on-deck batter Jeromy Burnitz.
For these eyes, the spirit of team unity among the Mets is a welcome sight that’s been absent for far too long – didn’t Mo Vaughn promise that they were going to throw it down at some point last year? – and a sign that the Fred Wilpon-instilled ideal of ‘all for one, one for all’ is more than some recycled Musketeers hogwash.
As punishment for attempting to spill Mota’s brains on the infield grass of Thomas J. White Stadium, Piazza would have likely received just a three-game suspension, but the infuriated All-Star tasted blood and later burst past Port St. Lucie’s retirement-aged security guard and into the Dodgers’ clubhouse, reportedly screaming, "Where’s Mota? Where’s Mota?"
That’s out of character for the normally mild-mannered Piazza, and ultimately a bad idea – it’ll give backup Vance Wilson a couple more April starts behind the plate – but it’s penalty time well spent if it makes even one pitcher think twice about going up and in again.
"He knows what he’s doing and he thinks," Burnitz said the night of the melee. "There were instances where he showed restraint. That’s proven."
This whole feud began last March, when the tall and lanky Mota threw an inside fastball that was perhaps a little too close for Piazza’s liking. After shying away from Clemens in 2000 and receiving a widespread ‘wimp’ label – undeserved as it may have been – Piazza proved his point, confronting Mota down the right field line after the inning and screaming into his bewildered face.
Memories like that don’t fade quickly, and when Piazza dug in against Mota last Thursday, the righthander first fired a fastball in the area of Piazza’s left knee, then drilled him in the left shoulder.
Mota struggled to stick with Los Angeles last season, spending most of the year in the minors, but it just might spark a feud of John Rocker-sized proportions if he comes into Shea Stadium with the Dodgers this season. Dates to circle on your calendar: May 6-8.
Making his pitch: Last season, Yankees manager Joe Torre promised righthander Jeff Weaver that he’d definitely be in the Bombers’ starting five in 2003, his reward for being a good soldier and taking a seat in the bullpen.
But then, the spending-happy Yankees just had to have Cuban sensation Jose Contreras this winter, clouding Weaver’s situation. However, while Contreras has struggled (1-1, 10.38 ERA), Weaver has dominated, allowing just two runs in 14.0 innings for a spring training ERA of 1.29.
When we caught up with the Yankees this past week at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex for an exhibition start against the Atlanta Braves, Weaver was simply dominating: after allowing a pair of singles to Andruw and Chipper Jones in the first inning, Weaver retired the final thirteen batters to face him in a scoreless five-inning stint.
Torre will be able to keep his word. Count on it.
Aloha means goodbye: Tough break for journeyman outfielder Benny Agbayani, who was released by the Boston Red Sox this week after hitting just .235 with one homer and two RBI in 11 spring training games. The former New York cult hero quickly latched on to a minor-league deal with the Cincinnati Reds, which will be his fourth organization since 2001.
The Reds are hoping the Hawaiian-born Agbayani will be able to provide them with some power-hitting depth at Triple-A Louisville this season, a far cry from the days at Shea when his popularity sparked a brand of novelty coffee, Benny Bean. "It’s gone now, man," Agbayani said in Jupiter, Fla., when asked about the coffee. "It’s gone." Bryan Hoch appears weekly in the Wave. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.