Work in Sports
SEATTLE (Ticker) -- It was the masterpiece in a Hall of Fame career, and that is saying something.
Roger Clemens came within inches of a no-hitter, "settled" for a one-hitter and set an American League Championship Series record with 15 strikeouts as the New York Yankees blanked the Seattle Mariners, 5-0, and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
The two-time defending world champions are within one victory of becoming the first team since the 1988-90 Oakland Athletics to appear in three straight World Series. New York also is trying to become the first team to win three straight titles since A's from 1972-74.
But during the Yankees' run, Clemens has stood out like a sore thumb. Despite a career that includes an unprecedented five Cy Young Awards, 260 wins, 3,500 strikeouts, 45 shutouts, six ERA titles and two 20-strikeout games, Clemens had earned a reputation as a poor postseason pitcher. The 38-year-old righthander was 3-5 in postseason play and had done nothing to shed that label this October.
But it was vintage "Rocket" tonight as he struck out at least one batter in every inning and throttled Seattle's superstar duo of Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez. He took a no-hitter into the seventh, but Al Martin opened the frame by lining a double off the tip of first baseman Tino Martinez's glove.
He retired the side in order in the eighth and ninth and fanned nine of the last 13 batters he faced. His 15 strikeouts were one more than Joe Coleman had for Detroit in 1972 and Mike Boddicker racked up for Baltimore in 1983.
"I feel real fortunate that I've been able to continue at this stage of my career, to go out there and be a part of a great deal of excitement and have a chance to light it up," Clemens said. "And sometimes, you know, you get beat. But tonight was special. I knew I was going to be strong. I tried to do the things I needed to do so I would not overthrow, but my fastball was very much alive, and I just knew I needed to try to harness it early."
"With what's at stake here, he was dominant," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "When he got to about the fifth inning or sixth inning, I could visualize Bob Gibson pitching against Detroit, or anybody else for that matter in the World Series, and it was just total dominance. I was going to give him help and send somebody out there in the ninth inning, and he wanted to go out there in the ninth inning. He had every bit as good of stuff as he had in the first eight."
"I had three pitches working today, and that makes a big difference," Clemens added. "I think that any hitter will tell you if I'm able to locate three different pitches, no question about it. I had command of all three, and it makes it --definitely makes it a lot easier to pitch when you do that, especially against some great hitters in a great lineup."
Derek Jeter provided Clemens with the offense, snapping a scoreless tie with a three-run homer in the fifth inning.
Seattle starter Paul Abbott (1-1) held New York scoreless through four innings but ran into trouble after two were out in the fifth.
Scott Brosius singled and Chuck Knoblauch walked before Jeter crushed a 1-0 pitch to dead center field. Cameron made a desperate leap at the wall but was unable to come up with the ball.
"When I hit it, I knew I hit it well," Jeter said. "But I thought I hit it too high. And you have Cameron in center field, and he's robbed me before. It looked like he was going to catch it."
David Justice added some insurance in the eighth with a two-run blast off Jose Mesa.
"They have won three in a row and we can do it," Rodriguez said.
"We'll work at getting it back to New York and see what happens.
"We want to come out tomorrow with the same attitude as today," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said.
Clemens' gem was the second one-hitter in a week as New York Mets righthander Bobby Jones one-hit the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. It was the seventh one-hitter in postseason history and the first in the AL since Jim Lonborg threw one for Boston in Game Two of the 1967 World Series.
"Rocket was dominating," Brosius said. "Except for that one inning they did nothing. When he is throwing that good we just need to a get a few runs.
"It was a great performance by Rocket," Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams said. "It was one of the best I've ever seen under these circumstances. But keep in perspective we still haven't dome anything."
After surrendering Jeter's sixth career postseason homer, Abbott suffered right shoulder stiffness and did not start the sixth.
Robert Ramsay tossed a scoreless frame and Mesa got the side in order in the seventh.
Clemens worked out of the jam in the bottom of the seventh and Jeter walked on a close pitch to open the eighth. Justice drilled an 0-1 pitch well over the center field wall for his second homer of the postseason and 12th all-time in the playoffs.
"We are not a home-run hitting club, but it seems that we are saving for important times," Torre said. "It's not planned. It just works out that way. And to hit two home runs over the center field fence is not easy. This ballpark is very fair."
Abbott allowed three runs and three hits, walked three and struck out three.
"He couldn't get his shoulder loose, and he kept, you know, playing around with his arm," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.
"Quite frankly, just couldn't get loose. The pitching coach went out there with the trainer and said that his shoulder was really getting stiff."
Seattle has managed just five runs in the series and has scored just seven in its last five postseason games. The Mariners are hitting just .183 (23-for-126) against New York and have struck out 35 times in the four games.
"We just need to win," Martin said. "Roger was at his very best.
Him at his best when we have guys that have been struggling is a terrible combination."