Work in Sports
Blast from the past
Older Clemens still finding ways to be dominant
Updated: Sunday October 15, 2000 3:14 AM
By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated
As usual the Yankees cleared out of their Safeco Field clubhouse quickly, but before they left they paused briefly to reflect on one of the most dominating pitching performances in postseason history.
For a team that counts anything less than a World Series title as abject failure this was just another step on a long march toward a championship.
Roger Clemens' one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece was also one of the most awesome pitching performances they're likely to be part of, especially in October.
"It's really tough to beat this one for a postseason game," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He got to about the fifth or sixth inning and I could visualize Bob Gibson pitching against Detroit in the World Series. This was just total dominance."
Added catcher Jorge Posada, "It was the best I ever caught him, no doubt."
This was vintage Clemens -- or, more accurately, vintage older Clemens. The Rocket is no longer the young flame-thrower who, at age 24, struck out 20 Mariners in 1986 by blowing fastballs by hitter after hitter up in the strike zone. As his age has risen Clemens' pitching palette has sunk: Tonight he had the Mariners flailing at fastballs low in the zone and splitters that dove beneath it.
To be sure, Clemens is still capable of throwing smoke; his fastball was consistently in the low- to mid-90s, and his splitter cruised to the plate as quickly as most pitchers' fastballs. But the beauty of his Game 4 performance was his ability to direct that smoke wherever he wanted.
"Tonight I had all three pitches going and probably my best splitter of the year," he said. "It was really dancing and doing everything I asked it to."
"Everything I called, he put it where I wanted," Posada said. "That makes it easy. I could call any pitch and know it would be right there."
That's more than could be said of Clemens in general for much of his two years as a Yankee, especially in the postseason. He's been an enigma to Yankee fans, and it's been impossible to know what to expect from him in October.
The Yankees have lost four games during the last two postseasons; Clemens has started three of those losses, including an 11-1 loss to Oakland in Game 4 of the division series, a game that could have clinched the series for the Yankees.
Then again, Clemens clinched last year's World Series with a Game 4 victory against the Braves. This victory may well have been a critical nail in the Mariners' ALCS coffin. It may also be the tour de force Clemens needed to secure a reputation as a reliable big-game pitcher.
"I'm in a fortunate situation where I get an opportunity to pitch in postseason games," Clemens said. "Tonight was special."
"He erased a lot of the questions about him," Posada said. "Not that we have questions that you guys have. You guys raise questions, and you got answers tonight."