An hour or so before he blew away the Mariners with a one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Roger Clemens was having trouble staying awake. On the trainer's table in the visitors' locker room at Safeco Field last Saturday afternoon, Clemens caught himself yawning and feeling sluggish. "I said to myself, This is not good," Clemens recalled the next day, basking in the glow of the first one-hitter in League Championship Series history and one of the most dominating performances of his 16-year career. So not good, in fact, that Clemens did something he rarely does. "I had half a cup of coffee, and that got me going."
As if the almighty bean didn't already have enough clout in Seattle. Properly boosted, the 38-year-old Rocket produced a performance that gave the Yankees a 5-0 victory and a three-games-to-one series lead. (The Mariners woke up in time to win Game 5 and force a sixth game in New York on Tuesday.) "I have never seen a pitcher dominate with pure power like that," said New York leftfielder David Justice, who spent most of the 1990s playing behind the peerless Atlanta Braves staff. "I saw Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz shut down a lot of teams, but last night? That was pure power."
Said Yankees manager Joe Torre, "He got to about the fifth or sixth inning, and I could visualize Bob Gibson pitching against Detroit in the World Series."
Clemens had been more Hoot Gibson than Bob Gibson in his previous start, in Game 4 of the Division Series. Hoping to close out the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium, Torre started Clemens on three days' rest. The result was a five-inning debacle, during which Clemens was touched for six runs, and the Yankees lost 11-1. Clemens took the hill on Saturday after six days off and clearly had a full head of steam. His fastball hummed in the mid-90s and was clocked as high as 98 mph; he mixed that pitch with a diving splitter that traveled near 90 mph. After the first inning, in which he raised the Mariners' ire by buzzing two high-caffeine fastballs near shortstop Alex Rodriguez's head, Clemens darted into the clubhouse, where Reggie Jackson was watching the game on TV. "Reggie, the ball's flying out of my hand," Clemens told him. "My splitter's nasty."
The performance was an eye-opener for Torre, a primer, perhaps, on how Clemens should be used in the fall. "The rest seemed to help," said Torre. "He really didn't care about what team he was facing. He was just going to give you what Roger Clemens had, and he had a lot." Looking ahead to a possible World Series rotation, Torre added, "I certainly would like to pitch him a couple of times after he's had some rest."
Saturday's effort won't completely reverse Clemens's reputation for shoddy postseason work—he's now 4-5 and has a 3.90 ERA in 15 postseason starts—but it's a step toward erasing an image that bothers him. "I get tired of people thinking I'm trying too hard and overthrowing in the playoffs," Clemens said after the game. His catcher, Jorge Posada, noted, "The main thing today was how poised and purposeful he was."
And not just on the mound. Minutes before game time, after he had warmed up in the bullpen, Clemens called a friend, PGA Tour golfer Billy Andrade, to deliver a pep talk. That afternoon Andrade had completed the fourth round of the Invensys Classic tied for the lead. "He told me just to finish it up, and I did," Andrade said on Sunday after clinching his first Tour victory in two years.
Three hours and 138 pitches later, it was the Mariners who were finished.