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Charge! Piazza Goes After Mota

Times Staff Writer

New York Met catcher Mike Piazza stormed into the Dodger clubhouse during the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s exhibition game in Thomas J. White Stadium, his face full of fury.

“Where’s Mota?” Piazza screamed, checking the trainer’s room. “Where’s Mota?” he yelled, walking through the clubhouse. Once he realized Dodger reliever Guillermo Mota had left, Piazza walked out the back door, got into his car and sped off.

An inning earlier, Mota had sparked a bench-clearing brawl when he hit Piazza with a fastball in the left shoulder. Piazza, who scuffled with Mota after a similar pitch last spring, charged the mound but never quite got to Mota because three Dodgers -- Adrian Beltre, Brian Jordan and Larry Barnes -- restrained him.

Had Jordan not whisked Mota away in a car minutes before Piazza entered the clubhouse, hostilities probably would have escalated. Round 3, though, could be right around the corner.

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Mota and Piazza are scheduled to travel this weekend to Mexico City, where the Dodgers and Mets will play two exhibition games, but Dodger Manager Jim Tracy said he will consider holding Mota back from the trip in order to prevent an international incident. Met General Manager Steve Phillips said Piazza will go.

“Let’s face it,” Tracy said. “There’s obviously a history between those two guys.”

Mota declined to comment in any detail about the incident, and Piazza left without speaking to reporters. But the war of words heated up, with new Met Manager Art Howe firing the most lethal shots.

“It was a setup,” Howe said, his suspicion being that Mota was left in the game for a second inning solely to face Piazza. “He tried to hit him with the first pitch. It was intentional.”

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Tracy denied the accusation.

“It was not a setup, there was nothing premeditated about it,” Tracy said of the decision to pitch Mota for a second inning. “Mota pitched two innings on Feb. 27 and two on March 6, and the thought was to pitch him for two innings for a third time this spring.”

Mota pitched the bottom of the fifth inning of the Dodgers’ 13-6 victory and then hit a three-run homer off Met reliever Armando Benitez in the top of the sixth. Asked if Piazza said anything to him as he crossed the plate, something that might have rekindled their feud, Mota said, “No.”

Piazza then led off the bottom of the sixth, and Mota’s first pitch was waist-high and inside. Mota then drilled Piazza in the back of the left shoulder with his next pitch, and Piazza burst out of the box, dropping his bat and sprinting to the mound.

Mota backed up and hurled his glove at Piazza before retreating toward second base, while Dodger catcher David Ross and Jordan tried to wrap up Piazza. Met right fielder Jeromy Burnitz chased after Mota, who headed for the Dodger dugout. A large scrum in front of the dugout railing ensued, but no punches were thrown.

“The guy ran like a scared rabbit when the man came after him,” Howe said of Mota. “If he wants to hit someone, stand up there and fight. He can backpedal faster than I can run forward.”

Tracy and Dodger pitching coach Jim Colborn did not speak to Mota before Mota left, “so I don’t know what the intent of the pitch was,” Colborn said. But the Dodgers didn’t exactly come to Mota’s defense.

“I wasn’t calling to hit him,” Ross said. “Maybe the pitch got away from him, I have no idea. But there was no discussion on the bench [before the inning] that would indicate we were going to hit him.”

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Mota hit Piazza in the left hip with a pitch on the last day of spring training in Vero Beach last spring. Piazza did not charge the mound. But later in the game, as Mota walked down the right-field line to leave, Piazza left the bench to confront him. Piazza grabbed Mota by the jersey with both hands, and players from both benches swarmed the pair.

“That was not a ball that was intentionally thrown at Mike,” Tracy said of last spring’s pitch. “Obviously, [Mota] remembers the fact that the guy tried to choke him a year ago. This boils down to a history between two guys that started last March. I’m sure Major League Baseball will sort this thing out.”

The commissioner’s office is expected to investigate the incident -- the game was televised in the New York area -- and there is precedent for imposing regular-season suspensions for spring-training fights. The Mets, though, have no doubt where the fault lies.

“Absolutely,” Burnitz said when asked if the pitch was premeditated. “I knew after the first pitch that there was some intent. You saw how I reacted. I never, ever do that. The bottom line is, that was wrong.”

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Dodger pitcher Darren Dreifort gave up two hits, struck out five and walked one in 4 1/3 scoreless innings of the Dodgers’ 5-1 split-squad victory over the Mets earlier Wednesday in Vero Beach. Dreifort threw 60 pitches and showed good velocity and location.... Kazuhisa Ishii gave up one run and three hits in a 58-pitch, three-inning outing in the night game, and Beltre hit a three-run homer.... Dodger bench coach Jim Riggleman, outfielder Daryle Ward, reliever Paul Quantrill and infielder Ron Coomer will not be able to accompany the team to Mexico City this weekend because they were unable to get their passports in time to process working visas to the country.


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