Piazza Wants to Earn Place in History

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It would be natural if Mike Piazza envisioned the postseason in the black and blue hues of his beleaguered body after six months of heavy duty work behind the plate, the toll that tends to leave him less than 100% in October.

Instead, the New York Met catcher and former Dodger thinks of it more in black and white, the faded images of old snapshots and videotapes.

Piazza was talking about it the other day and saying how he relates the postseason to history and heroics, the grand deeds of people named Babe and Mickey and Joe D among so many others and how he would like to experience what they did.


“The ultimate perception of a money player is winning a World Series,” Piazza said. “Everyone dreams of doing it, of being that kind of player, and I’m no different.

“I’ve got the stats, I’ve made a great living. Everything I want now is team-oriented. I’m motivated to do everything I can to keep us going.

“I’d love to be part of that history.”

Piazza is on the threshold. He helped put the Mets within a win of the World Series on Sunday with a homer, double and run-scoring groundout in a 10-6 victory over the self-destructing St. Louis Cardinals.

The Mets could win their first National League pennant since 1986 at Shea Stadium tonight, enabling Piazza to make his World Series debut starting Saturday at either Yankee Stadium or Seattle’s Safeco Field.

Many of the Mets think a Subway Series would be extra sweet for Piazza, giving him a chance for revenge against Roger Clemens, the Yankee pitcher whose mid-summer beaning of Piazza in an interleague game left him with a concussion and was viewed as intentional by Met Manager Bobby Valentine and others.

Asked if, indeed, a Subway Series would hold extra meaning for him, Piazza laughed and said:


“Starting already, huh? Ask me that after we win tomorrow.”

He paused and added: “I can’t control what people think, but I’ve really tried to put that incident in the past. It’s behind me. Right now I’m just focused on getting there. The Yankees haven’t won their series either, so it’s kind of premature to think about.”

In the interview room after Sunday’s game, Piazza wore a cap that read “Bomb Squad” above the brim, a gift from the New York Police unit of that name.

It seemed appropriate given his contribution to the early detonation of Cardinal starter Darryl Kile.

Piazza had one of five Met doubles off Kile in a four-run first inning, drew an intentional walk that backfired when Kile couldn’t retire the next three hitters in a three-run second, blasted a solo homer off Mike James in the fourth and produced a run-scoring grounder off Mike Timlin in the sixth.

Wearied--and at times bloodied--by the demands of his position, the postseason hasn’t always been kind to Piazza, but he is six for 13 in the championship series with two homers and four runs batted in. As bench coach John Stearns noted the other day: “The monster is out of his cage.”

Said Piazza: “Inevitably, when you get towards the end of the year, I’ve taken a lot of lumps. It’s just tough physically to stay 100%. This year, fortunately, I was able to get a little rest at the end, recuperate a bit, and I’ve been swinging the bat fairly well.”


The Cardinals will attest to that. They will also attest that the Met lineup has taken on a new dimension since Timo Perez replaced the injured Derek Bell in right field. The new leadoff hitter is an improbable story, a 24-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who spent four years in Japan before signing with the Mets as a free agent last winter and beginning the year in Class A, the first step in a rapid rise to his Aug. 30 arrival in the big leagues.

Sunday was characteristic of what the fleet Perez has delivered.

He doubled, singled, walked, reached on an error, stole a base, scored three runs and threw out Shawon Dunston trying to advance from first to second on a seventh-inning fly out.

“He’s the best thing to come out of Japan since the VCR,” Piazza said. “What a story. It’s like, who is this guy and where did he come from? I mean, I’m just glad he’s here. He’s come in and played great defense and been a great table setter.”

The table is now set for a champagne celebration tonight.

“Obviously,” Piazza said, “we want to end it right here. We don’t want to go back to St. Louis. We have our guy [Mike Hampton] on the mound who’s been great all year. That’s our plan, to come out and take care of business, to win it in front of our own fans, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself thinking about what it’s going to feel like. I’m just sort of numb and focused on getting there.”

The Mets can talk about the Perez impact and the possibility that second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo may be the best player in New York, but Piazza remains the one hitter capable of carrying them, the money player on the verge now of his coveted shot at history.