Originally created 08/30/98

Piazza's return took its toll

LOS ANGELES -- His ribs ached from being struck by a pickoff throw. His left elbow throbbed after colliding with an opponent's bat. And his emotions rode a roller coaster.

Mike Piazza's return to Dodger Stadium took a physical and mental toll. Nervous for the first time in years, he hadn't counted on a warm reception from the sellout crowd of 52,154, and it put him in a sentimental mood.

"I had five great years here, a lot of memories," he said Friday night after hitting a home run and scoring the winning run in the New York Mets' 5-4 victory over Los Angeles in 10 innings.

"It's almost like going on a roller coaster," he said. "You're scared before you get on it. Once you get on, you're like, it really wasn't that bad."

Piazza was back at the stadium for the first time since being traded to Florida, then the Mets during a seven-day span in May. During a pregame chat, he insisted in a weary monotone that it was just another game.

"I never really wanted to come in and make any statements. I just wanted to play good baseball," he said. "I just wanted to play the way I played here for five years."

Piazza went 2-for-4 with his 26th homer. He scored the winning run on a fielder's choice grounder in the 10th after Jeff Shaw's pickoff throw to second base struck him in the ribs.

He tipped his helmet to the crowd before stepping into the batter's box for the first time.

"I didn't think there would be that big a buzz," he said. "I just wanted to show my appreciation for the support, not only in this game, but the years that I've spent here."

When he left in May, Piazza took out a newspaper ad thanking Los Angeles fans. They returned the favor Friday night. A fan along the third-base line held up a "Piazza come home" sign in a nod to his pending free-agent status.

"I didn't anticipate these sort of feelings. The response is what made it very enjoyable for me," he said. "They're Dodger fans and they're class. I was honored. It was a thrill for me. I didn't think I would get that response."


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