Clemens breaks Mets and the rules

It is only Game Three of the 2000 World Series tonight, but here across the Atlantic they are already paraphrasing Gary Lineker: baseball is a game played between two teams of nine men (or 10 if you are operating under American League rules allowing a designated hitter) which the New York Yankees always win.

It is only Game Three of the 2000 World Series tonight, but here across the Atlantic they are already paraphrasing Gary Lineker: baseball is a game played between two teams of nine men (or 10 if you are operating under American League rules allowing a designated hitter) which the New York Yankees always win.

That, at any rate, is how it seems to the New York Mets, and every other self-respecting Yankee-hater across the United States now that the team from the Bronx has taken what may be a decisive 2-0 lead after the first segment of the 2000 World Series against the Mets.

There could be few arguments about Sunday's Game Two, in which the Yankees swept to a six-run advantage behind the imperious pitching of Roger Clemens, only to be pegged back by a couple of Mets homers after he left the game at the start of the ninth inning. The final 6-5 scoreline flattered the Mets, who had managed just two hits against Clemens and his utterly overpowering fast ball, scorching through the chilly night air at up to 99 mph.

The most dangerous thing he threw during the evening however was not a baseball - but the business end of a shattered bat which a few seconds earlier had belonged to his nemesis, Mike Piazza of the Mets. There is seriously bad history between the two of them, culminating in Clemens' pitch which smashed into Piazza's helmet on 8 July, putting the Mets' catcher on to the disabled list for two weeks.

When they came face to face again in the top of the first inning, Yankee Stadium was crackling, and on just the fourth pitch the place almost exploded. Piazza fouled the ball off, but his bat splintered into three pieces, with the barrel flying towards the pitcher's mound.

Instead of waiting for the usual batboy to scamper out and collect the debris, Clemens picked up the jagged piece of wood and flung it in the direction of Piazza who was trotting down to first base. Mercifully, tempers quickly cooled, but Mets fans yesterday were still wondering why Clemens had not been thrown out of the game there and then. But he wasn't - and the Mets never had a chance thereafter.

Game one, the night before, however, was a very different story, with the Mets typically contriving to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After squandering a bucketful of chances, they finally got their noses in front. But the Yankees, helped by a marvellous gritty at-bat by Paul O'Neill, sent across the tying run at the bottom of the ninth to make it 3-3, and the baseball gods had spoken. Although it took the Yankees until the bottom of the 12th inning of what, at 4hr 51min, was the longest game in World Series history, there was only going to be one winner.

So now from the Bronx to Queens, and Shea stadium where the Mets have home field advantage. But already this Subway Series is shaping up like most of its predecessors in the 1940s and 1950s, when every neutral was with the underdog Giants or Dodgers - but, almost always, those damned Yankees won.

History has not completely abandoned the Mets, for teams do come back from two games down to win the best-of-seven Series; the Yankees themselves managed it against the Atlanta Braves in 1996, and so did the Mets against the Boston Red Sox 10 years earlier. The 2000 Mets, however, will have to play a great deal better to join them.

First they have to win two of the three Shea games, and behind their weaker starting pitchers, to send the Series back to the Bronx. If they manage that, Clemens will be waiting for them again.

As for the Yankees they are playing just like the Germans play - or used to play - football: not particularly well when it does not matter (as in the end of the regular season), but well enough when the chips are down. Their trump card so far has been sheer experience. The Mets must pray the momentum of Sunday's late, but insufficient, rally carries over tonight. Otherwise, the Yankees will have a lock on their third straight Series - what would be the first hat-trick since the 1972-1974 Oakland Athletics.

WORLD SERIES: NY Mets 5 NY Yankees 6. (Yankees lead series 2-0).

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