SI flashback: It's all about the power (cont.)
Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM
"Roger is a great teammate," Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi says, "but on the mound? He's one badass mother."
In the first inning of Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, in Seattle, Clemens buzzed a fastball near the whiskers of Alex Rodriguez. And then he did it again. Rodriguez wheeled and yelled at Clemens, "Throw the ball over the f------plate!"
"I never heard him say anything," Clemens says.
Seattle manager Lou Piniella was furious. Rodriguez's mother later complained that Clemens was trying to hurt her baby.
"Another big misconception," Clemens says, shaking his head. "They don't understand: When you face a hitter and you're trying to get him off the plate, you throw at his hands. Say, like A-Rod. I'm trying to get a ball at his hands."
Clemens typically takes aim at a piece of his catcher: the mitt mostly but sometimes a shoulder or a knee. To get a pitch under the hands of a hitter he must aim toward the empty space between the catcher and the hitter. "So you're visualizing throwing in that open area," Clemens says of the brushback pitch. "And if you let that ball go off the fingertips one or two inches in the wrong spot, it's going to be up and in, heads-up, all that stuff. But I'm not going to miss over [the plate]. Because I've done that before. And with [Greg] Luzinski and [Dave] Kingman and those monsters, that's gone. I learned that when I was 21."
Says Rodriguez, "I knew he was trying to set a tone." Clemens threw a one-hitter that day against Seattle, striking out 15 batters. A few days later he sent Rodriguez's mother one of the gift baskets the Yankees' wives had given the Mariners' wives. "I really wasn't trying to hurt her baby," he says.
"Best game I've seen in my life," Rodriguez says. "I've probably watched on TV and played in 5,000 games, and it's easily the best I've ever seen. His 140th pitch in the ninth inning was 98 miles an hour. His splitter was 95 and nasty.
"Roger Clemens is a role model for me. He is where I want to be: the financial rewards, the family happiness, the Hall of Fame career, the work ethic. He climbed the mountain, and he's stayed there."
Tony Gwynn liked to distill his hitting style to one word: carving. That was his expression for al-lowing the ball to get deep into the hitting zone and then slicing it through "the 5.5 hole," between the third baseman and shortstop. For Clemens, the operative word is downhill.
"Perfect," he says. "I work downhill. Stay tall. Stay back. Work downhill." In his windup he does a deliberate two-step: a drop step with his left foot and a step in front of the slab with his right. He can no longer see the catcher as his chin drops--he is soft-focused on the third base side of the mound--but he visualizes the target. "When I try to pick up the target too early, my chin drifts," he says. "That causes the [left] shoulder to fly open. You pick up the target as you're going home."
The mound never seems so damn high as when Clemens is erect over the rubber with his left knee up, the ball still in his right hand inside his glove. Imagine the last ominous click you hear from the chain drive of a roller coaster as it crests that first hill. At that moment the maximum amount of energy is stored. What comes next is pure downhill fury. "I'm six-four, so I have leverage," Clemens says. "Use your leverage and reach out there and get somebody."
Down, down, down the slope of the hill he roars, the stored energy released in an explosion of 237 pounds of power while he keeps his huge, meaty right hand behind the ball, his fingers on top--not on the sides--and his arm extended toward the target.
Nothing is wasted. The speeding coaster stays straight on its rails.
"Roger is massive across the back and shoulders," Stottlemyre says, "but much of his power comes through his great lower-body strength and pushing off properly." This is why he invests four days of sweat in every start, a program he tapers after the All-Star break to stay strong for the rest of the season. He is, body and soul, a power pitcher."
"I know why I'm able to keep my fastball at the pace it is right now: It's because of the work that I do," he says. "If I was a control freak as far as location and movement go, I could ride a stationary bike and do a little whirlpool and stretch and probably be fine. I wouldn't have to worry about getting sore. For me to do this it's a four-or five-day recovery time."