Posted: Sunday October 10, 1999 01:10 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas (Ticker) -- Roger Clemens finally found his postseason groove. The Texas Rangers are still looking for theirs.
Clemens pitched seven scoreless innings to win a postseason game for the first time in 13 years and the New York Yankees completed a sweep of their American League Division Series with a 3-0 blanking of the punchless Rangers.
"He threw well enough to win," Rangers manager Johnny Oates said. "We scored no runs and we had some chances to score some runs. The bottom line is that we still put zeros on the board."
Clemens allowed three hits and two walks while striking out two as he displayed the form that has made him a five-time Cy Young Award winner. However, that form has not carried to the postseason, where he is only 2-2 in 10 starts.
The hard-throwing righthander's only postseason win came in the 1986 AL Championship Series against California. Since then, he was winless in six starts, all with Boston in 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1995.
"I think he had a chance to turn the page and start over tonight," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He kept his emotions intact, which I thought was the big key for him because his stuff was terrific."
Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards with Toronto, Clemens somewhat struggled this year, going 14-10 with a 4.60 ERA.
Energized by pitching in his home state, he was in control throughout, allowing only two runners to reach second.
Clemens appeared to injure his leg in the seventh. Jeff Nelson started the eighth before being replaced by Mariano Rivera, who pitched two scoreless innings for his second save of the series.
He also lowered his career postseason ERA to 0.47.
"I didn't want to get in trouble, so I put in Rivera," Torre said. "You can look at him and tell he has fire in his eye."
To the Rangers, all of the Yankees' pitchers have looked like Clemens and Rivera. After leading the league in batting at .293 and scoring 945 runs during the season, the AL West champions hit .152 and scored just one run in the series -- matching their total from last year's Division Series sweep, also at the hands of the Yankees.
"The Rangers lineup is dangerous," Clemens said. "We were fortunate to get through these games."
"It's been the same thing the whole series -- we never got our offense going," Oates said.
Texas has lost nine straight playoff contests since winning Game One of the 1996 Division Series against New York.
"It's very hard to take," Rangers second baseman Mark McLemore said. "We came into this year with a better ballclub and the same thing happened again. It's tough to deal with."
The defending World Series champion Yankees captured their 10th straight postseason game and await the winner of the other AL Division Series between Cleveland and Boston. Cleveland has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Rangers starter Esteban Loaiza made one mistake, but with the way his team has been hitting, it was enough to cost Texas the game. Darryl Strawberry launched a three-run homer in the first inning that gave Clemens a cushion before even throwing a pitch.
"When you get a three-run lead, you should feel good," Clemens said. "When Straw hit that home run to get us going, it was a big lift for us."
In his first postseason start, Loaiza surrendered three runs, five hits and a walk in seven innings, striking out four. He was as good as Clemens after the first inning but the damage was done.
"It was just the first inning," Loaiza said. "We had a lot more left and one mistake cost the whole game. It's going to be hard for me to forget about it."
"Certainly giving up a three-run homer in the first inning is not the best thing that can happen to you," Oates said. "But our pitchers kept battling. Este gave us a good outing."
Loaiza struck out Chuck Knoblauch to start the game but nearly gave up a homer to Derek Jeter, whose blast hit the top of the wall in left-center field. As Jeter rounded second, he ran into McLemore, who was called for obstruction as Jeter was given third.
Bernie Williams walked and Tino Martinez struck out before Strawberry crushed a 1-0 pitch 415 feet into the left-center field bleachers for his eighth career postseason homer and a 3-0 lead.
"It feels special. It always feels special when you come through in a big situation," Strawberry said. "When you get three runs and you have Roger Clemens on the mound, you have to feel good about your chances."
"The first inning, I just wish I could have it all back," Loaiza said. "It was a sinker away that stayed on the corner."
Clemens got a 1-2-3 first and both pitchers settled in. Loaiza allowed only singles to Williams and Strawberry until Ricky Ledee singled to open the seventh. Loaiza got three quick outs to end that threat.
In the bottom of the fourth, Juan Gonzalez singled between outs and Todd Zeile walked, but Lee Stevens grounded out to first. In the sixth, Greer walked with one out and moved to second on a grounder by Gonzalez. However, Clemens got Rafael Palmeiro on a comebacker.
"Our attitude on the bench (after the homer) was that we still had nine innings to go, but Roger Clemens was throwing the ball well," Rangers left fielder Rusty Greer said.