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Mota-Piazza Is Still the Talk of Camp

Times Staff Writers

There will be no Mike Piazza-Guillermo Mota rematch in Mexico City this weekend -- the Dodgers on Thursday removed Mota from the travel squad for international exhibitions against the New York Mets after the reliever instigated Wednesday night’s bench-clearing brawl in Port St. Lucie, Fla., by hitting Piazza in the left shoulder with a pitch.

But tensions between the Dodgers and Mets remained high in the wake of the fight, and Mota and Piazza are expected to receive severe regular-season suspensions, Piazza’s penalty compounded by his foray into the Dodger clubhouse after the incident and Mota’s by his “intentional” effort to hit the Mets’ star catcher.

“He said [Mota] was intentionally throwing at Mike Piazza,” Ralph Nelson, baseball’s vice president of umpiring, said of home-plate umpire Jerry Meals’ game report. “Bob Watson [baseball’s discipline czar] will now discipline both of them, and we’ve put out an alert so that if either one of them is involved in a situation with each other again, they will be automatically ejected.”

Mota, 29, denied throwing at Piazza intentionally and said Wednesday night’s pitch had nothing to do with his spring-training scuffle with Piazza last March, a bench-clearing incident that also erupted after Mota hit Piazza with a pitch.

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Few Dodgers thought Mota hit Piazza intentionally last spring, but it was clear to some teammates that Wednesday night’s pitch had more purpose.

“He made a mistake hitting a guy like that,” said Dodger left fielder Brian Jordan, who drove Mota back to Vero Beach on Wednesday night.

“I talked to him, and he knows he shouldn’t have done it, but it was a pride thing. You’ve got a young kid going back to the Dominican Republic and everybody remembering that incident, and he’s got to remember it all winter long. Then coming to spring training, your own teammates tease you. I guess he felt like he had to prove himself.”

Piazza declined to discuss the incident with reporters Thursday. The catcher was so angry Wednesday night “it looked like his eyes were going to pop out,” said third baseman Adrian Beltre, one of three players it took to restrain Piazza. Several other Mets were still furious Thursday.

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“It was a gutless thing what [Mota] did, to run away and not take it like a man,” Met reliever John Franco said, referring to Mota’s retreat into the Dodger dugout after Piazza charged the mound.

New York pitcher Scott Strickland, a former teammate of Mota’s in Montreal, was not surprised by his actions.

“He’s kind of a punk,” Strickland said.

“It’s not like he has the best character. He got caught stealing [bats from players’ lockers] in Montreal. He’s not a model citizen, and he’s not a model teammate.”

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Met Manager Art Howe called the incident a “set-up,” claiming Mota was left in the game for a second inning to hit Piazza, an accusation Dodger Manager Jim Tracy bristled at Thursday.

“I’m not going to sit here and answer questions that suggest this is a complete one-way street or that it was a set-up,” he said. “If you want to talk about premeditation, I remember last year Mike sat in the dugout, waited for quite a while, and as Guillermo was leaving, Mike confronted him, reached out and tried to choke him.

“Is that premeditated? So don’t bring any of that stuff over here because I don’t want to hear about it .... Is it OK to come into the other team’s clubhouse? He’s exonerated for that?”

Wednesday night’s fight broke out in the bottom of the sixth inning. By the seventh, Piazza, a former Dodger, was in street clothes pacing the Dodger clubhouse, screaming, “Where’s Mota? Where’s Mota?” Told Mota had left, Piazza stormed out the back door, got into his car and sped off, tires squealing.

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“I was very disturbed that the security was such in Port St. Lucie that an opposing player would be inside our clubhouse,” Dodger General Manager Dan Evans said. Mota said he “had no idea” Piazza tried to hunt him down. “I don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “I was glad I left early.”

Asked if he felt he should apologize to Piazza, Mota said, “I don’t know, I have no comment about that .... All I can say is it was nothing intentional. Whatever they think....”

Said Tracy: “Did Mike apologize to Guillermo [last season] when he choked the ... out of him?”

Several Dodgers expressed concern that the Mets will retaliate, and some thought the feud was restricted to Piazza and Mota, who will probably receive suspensions of at least seven games each.

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“If it’s between Mota and Mike, let’s call each other up and meet in the parking lot,” Strickland said. “I don’t think Mike would have a problem with that.”

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Veteran left-handers Pedro Borbon and Yorkis Perez, vying for roles in the Dodger bullpen, were released before a 6-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Holman Stadium. Borbon went 0-1 with a 10.80 earned-run average in five games. Perez had no decisions and was not charged with a run in three games.


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