Work in Sports
Clemens brilliant in pitching Yanks to brink of Series
Updated: Sunday October 15, 2000 4:12 PM
By David Vecsey, CNNSI.com
SEATTLE -- In retrospect, we should have seen it coming. Not simply because Roger Clemens was long, long overdue for THAT playoff game, but because The Rocket came out in the first inning Saturday and declared that THIS was it.
It was vintage Clemens at Safeco Field, a one-hit, 15-strikeout virtuoso for a 5-0 Yankees victory and a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.
"That was the third best postseason pitching performance I've ever seen," said an animated George Steinbrenner outside the Yankees locker room. "There's [Bob] Gibson, there's [Don] Larsen and there's Clemens."
There were strikeouts, there were high, hard ones and there was verbal sparring. And that was just the first inning.
Mariners fans had barely settled down after Paul Abbott made relatively quick work of the Yankees in the top of the first when Clemens sent leadoff man Stan Javier back to the bench with his bat on his shoulder.
Then he did the same to Al Martin on "two of the nastiest forkballs I've ever seen."
"You hope it's just for you, you know," Martin said. "I was hoping he was just giving me his best stuff. But as the game goes on, you realize that it's just Roger at his best."
With the Safeco crowd voicing its displeasure, Clemens answered in the only way he knows how: He did it again. This brought more jeers cascading down as well as a mouthful out of Lou Piniella from the M's dugout.
"There was nothing behind those pitches," said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. "The pitches weren't even that close. We were trying to pitch him inside and the pitches got away from Roger a little bit, but I think [the Mariners] misunderstood what we were trying to do."
Already down 2-0 to one of the game's premier hitters, Clemens took no chances and walked Rodriguez.
But before that spark of Mariners hope could flare up, Clemens got Edgar Martinez to pop out and end the inning and start a string of 16 consecutive outs that included six strikeouts and just two balls hit out of the infield.
When Martin doubled to lead off the seventh and break up the no-hitter, Clemens only got better by striking out seven of the last 10 batters. That streak began with the batter after Martin, which happened to be Rodriguez, who happened to call a timeout as Clemens was winding up. There were words exchanged again, but Clemens ultimately has the last word with a fastball in the low-90s.
"Fastball, forkball, slider," Posada said, "everything he did today had a purpose."
For Clemens, it will likely put to rest the perception that his postseason performances never matched up to the regular-season dominance. For every one of his five Cy Young Awards, there seems to be an evil twin of a postseason disappointment, ranging from the shocking end to his solid start in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series to a second-inning ejection in Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS to last week's 11-1 embarassment against Oakland in Game 4 of the ALDS.
Critics even claim he piggybacked his way to a title last year with the Yankees, forgetting that he was the winning pitcher in the Game 4 clincher against Atlanta.
Clemens came into Game 4 with only three wins in 14 postseason starts. His five losses and 4.32 ERA weren't commensurate with the rest of his resume. Clemens is the only pitcher to win 250 games in his career, but have a losing record in the postseason.
"I think he's probably tired of answering those questions, just like probably John Elway was tired of answering those questions about the Super Bowl," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "When you look at his career, I think we expect so much from pitchers like him -- or players like Barry Bonds. It's just tough, because it's tough to satisfy people."
Not this time.