Work in Sports
Clemens fires one-hit, 15-strikeout gem at Mariners
Updated: Sunday October 15, 2000 7:15 AM
Pitching the greatest game of his flawed postseason career, Clemens threw a one-hitter and struck out a record-setting 15 as the Yankees beat Seattle 5-0 Saturday and moved within one win of another World Series trip.
Clemens brushed back Alex Rodriguez, then brought the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the AL Championship Series. Al Martin doubled off the glove of leaping first baseman Tino Martinez in the seventh inning for Seattle's only hit.
"Tonight was special," Clemens said. "The ball was jumping out of my hand."
In a testy, tense affair that saw Mariners manager Lou Piniella shout a string of profanities toward the New York dugout after some early brushbacks, the Yankees won with power pitching and power hitting.
Derek Jeter hit a three-run homer in the fifth and David Justice launched a two-run shot in the eighth. That was plenty for Clemens, who used 97 mph fastballs to set a nine-inning ALCS record for strikeouts.
"It was total dominance," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
The Yankees can wrap up their 37th AL pennant and a chance at their third straight World Series title -- possibly in a Subway Series -- when Denny Neagle starts against Freddy Garcia in Game 5 on Sunday.
And suddenly, all those white towels Mariners fans have been waving at Safeco Field might wind up being flags of surrender.
Though other teams have done it, never have the Yankees blown a 3-1 lead in a seven-game postseason series.
Coming off two losses to Oakland in the division series that dropped his postseason record to 3-5, Clemens had become the symbol of what was wrong with the Yankees. At 38, some thought the future Hall of Famer with five-time Cy Young awards and his teammates were too old and broken down to keep their run going.
"I left a lot of games with leads and didn't get wins. Pitched poorly a handful of times, too," Clemens said.
This time, the Rocket showed otherwise from the start -- and with a vengeance.
"The way he threw today, he erased a lot of the questions about him in postseason," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "A lot of people doubted him, but we didn't."
Martinez vainly jumped to catch Martin's leadoff liner, but the ball glanced off the very tip of his glove and rolled into the right-field corner. It was a clean hit, and the official scorer immediately ruled it that way.
"I couldn't get it. It was the best I could jump," Martinez said.
After striking out Stan Javier and Martin to start the bottom of the first, Clemens buzzed Rodriguez with two fastballs. Rodriguez eventually walked, making him the only Mariners hitter to reach until the seventh.
"I have my own thoughts on that, and I don't want to discuss them," Rodriguez said.
In the top of the second, losing pitcher Paul Abbott threw a fastball near Posada's head, and that's when the shouting started.
From the Mariners' first-base dugout, Piniella started screaming across the way. Fans in the front row -- including the world's richest man, Bill Gates -- could certainly hear the world-class tirade, with Piniella vowing his team would not back down.
"He wants to throw at our guys, we'll throw at his guys," Piniella said after the game. "I was just trying to let him know we'll protect our hitters, period."
Said Torre: "It was animated. I can understand. Lou's a fiery guy."
Before the bottom of the second, umpire crew chief John Hirschbeck walked in from second base to talk with Clemens on the mound. Clemens has a history of throwing inside, having beaned Mets star Mike Piazza this summer.
"I told him: 'I'm not saying you threw at Rodriguez or accusing you of that. But obviously they thought you did because of that pitch to Posada,"' Hirschbeck said.
"I said: 'Let's just let it be done, or else I'll have to issue warnings.' He said, 'I hear you, John. I'm all set,"' he said.
In the fourth, Martin was retired on a play in which Clemens covered first base. The two bumped shoulders after crossing the bag and Clemens raised an elbow.
But in the seventh, Martin hit back with a liner that prevented Clemens from throwing only the second no-hitter in postseason history. Don Larsen threw a perfect game for the Yankees against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.
Clemens, who has never pitched a no-hitter in the majors, said he was not aware he had one in progress until he saw the boxscore on the clubhouse TV in the fourth inning.
"I wasn't really focused on that, I was focused on winning the game."
The Mariners, meanwhile, are batting only .183 in the series and have scored just five runs.
It was the second one-hitter in a week for a New York pitcher, with Bobby J. Jones of the Mets doing it in an NL division clincher against San Francisco.
The scrape between Clemens and Martin was the last sign of trouble. Clemens mowed down the Mariners, much the way he did in setting a major league strikeout record by fanning 20 Seattle hitters on April 29, 1986, while with Boston.
The Mariners threatened only once. Martin's double and a two-out walk to John Olerud brought up Mike Cameron as the tying run, but he struck out with Clemens punctuating it with an exaggerated fist pump.
Jeter blew a bubble as he ran toward first base and raised his right fist when he saw the ball clear Cameron's leap.
Abbott left with tightness in his right shoulder after the fifth. Justice homered off Jose Mesa.
Notes: Clemens has 21 regular-season wins against Seattle, the most by a Mariners opponent. ... Seattle catcher Dan Wilson struck out twice, leaving him 2-for-54 (.037) lifetime in postseason play.