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NL looks to bury ax -- in AL
Enemies Clemens and Piazza lead National League into annual showcase.
By Ben Walker ~ The Associated Press
HOUSTON -- At least Mike Piazza will be wearing a mask, shinguards and a chest protector when Roger Clemens throws at him Tuesday night.
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.
Those sluggers were to take part in the home run derby Monday night at Minute Maid Park.
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?
"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 $50,000, and the pair have not spoken since.
They have, however, talked about each other -- albeit reluctantly.
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.
"We took care of that one immediately and put it in the past," Lo Duca said. "But you play against a lot of guys you don't like. I didn't like Jose Lima when I played against him, and now he's on our team and I love him."
Feuds have long been a part of baseball.
In the early 1900s, the famed double-play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance had its problems. Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers detested each other and didn't speak for years.
More recently, Bonds and fellow All-Star Jeff Kent had trouble. Even in the last week, All-Star pitcher Randy Johnson and Arizona teammate Luis Gonzalez barked at each other.
Now, it's Clemens and Piazza.
"There's more to this game than those two," AL manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees said. "They understand it. They're pros."
While NL manager Jack McKeon of the Florida Marlins picked Clemens to start in his hometown, Torre chose Mark Mulder of the Oakland Athletics.
The AL has a six-game winning streak, not including a tie. The NL leads the overall series 40-32-2.
This will be the second year the league that wins the All-Star game gets the home field in the World Series. It didn't help New York last year when Florida won Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. It's an idea that still does not set well with some players.
"It adds a little bit of spice to the game, but I don't like it," Boston pitcher Curt Schilling said. "The team with the best record should have home field."