The fifth day is the release after four days of work. The energy has been packed into Clemens's body the way gourmet ice cream is packed by hand into a cardboard container. Overpacked. The energy rolls down the sides. Where will it be used? Here in the game. All of it. He will pound guys. Or at least he will try. A mask of malevolence descends over his face. He does not shave. His eyes switch to a Gary Gilmore jailhouse stare. He will spot injustice everywhere. What is there to battle today? The other team? The umpires? A nagging ache in the shoulder? The weather? The groundskeepers? The press? Immortality? He will take care of them all. He will pitch with an angry, adolescent heart. His team will be the good team. The other team will be the bad. His team might not have the most talent, might not have the best defense or hitting or certainly not the best bullpen, but it has the best people. His people. He will hang them across his back in a fireman's carry and take them through this burning house. Nine innings. Let the bullpen rest to help those other pitchers on other days. He will take care of this day. His day.
When he is pitching well, when the control is good, when the speed is up, he is almost untouchable. The best pitcher in baseball. No debate. The evening sports news will be a collage of strikeouts, batters swinging at air, batters frozen in place, looking at pitches they can't see. When he is pitching one grade lower, there will be more foul balls, longer battles. He will pitch and pitch and win a succession of gritty contests of will. When, on occasion, he is in trouble, the night will take a sudden turn. He will have all of this leftover energy to use.
"There was a game in '89," he says. "Against Cleveland. In the afternoon. At home. [Red Sox manager] Joe Morgan took me out in the first inning. He thought I had a knot in my arm. I hit [Indians outfielder] Joe Carter, gave up some hits...he took me out. I didn't think I was that bad. I left the park. I was still in uniform. Got fined, of course. I went home with Deb, got a bucket of balls. We went out to a Little League park. I pitched a simulated game against a chain-link fence. Just throwing against the fence, hard as I could. Deb called the balls and strikes. Nine innings, over 130 pitches. I had to know whether my arm was all right or not. It was fine."
On bad nights at Fenway, his wife will wait for him at the clubhouse door and drive him to the banks of the Charles River, where he will run his miles in the dark. She will read a book by the dome light in the car. On bad nights on the road, he simply runs back to the hotel from the park. A friend, Eddie Miller, once was late for a game in Anaheim, Calif. He was walking into the park when Clemens came running out in baseball pants and jogging shoes. Hi, Eddie. Hi, Roger. On the good nights, the bulk of the nights, there will be a final battle. The press.
"I was a good guy when I came to Boston. I was good to all of 'em [in the media]," he says. "I did a lot of things. I invited 'em into my home in Texas when I won the Cy Young. I talked all the time. Then some things happened, and some guys—six or seven guys—wrote and said some things I didn't think they should have said. Because they knew me. They knew the type of person I was. They took a picture of me in my car [a Porsche, license plates CY-MVP] listening to the news on the car phone that I won the Cy Young. They used the same picture one year later to show I was some pampered, overpaid athlete. Well, that wasn't fair. Just wasn't. I forgive 'em, but I don't forget."
Now he talks to the Boston media only after he pitches. Thirty-seven starts. The interviews have become part of that day, part of the everything-goes approach. The change happened in December 1988. Clemens was interviewed live, over a local television station from his home in Katy, Texas. He thought he was decrying the loss of teammate Bruce Hurst to free agency. He thought he was detailing things that Red Sox management should do for players and their families. The words came out wrong. He sounded as if all he were moaning about was having to carry his own luggage into hotels and not having an extra parking space for his wife. He tried to explain. The words still didn't sound right. He was portrayed as an overpaid ingrate who didn't want to play baseball in Boston. He was booed on Opening Day in 1989. He decided not to talk except on the day he pitches.
"I know it hurts some of the new reporters, who weren't involved, but that's the way it is," he says. "I figure the one day they really need me is the day I pitch, so that's the day I talk."
He is talking on one of the four quiet days. But this is different. This is a national magazine. He might be on the cover. He takes the photographers to a truck farm where he poses with his sons, feeding a cow. He takes the photographers to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he poses with some sick children. He spends three days on the project, fitting in the interview and the photography sessions among his workouts. The story does not run because in Boston's next game, a 6-2 loss to Oakland on Sept. 4, Clemens hurts his shoulder. A story about his approach to pitching no longer seems to matter so much.
The afternoon of Oct. 10, somehow everything exploded. That is the best description. Clemens's plan, of course, never worked. There never was a strikeout, so there never was an Italian hand gesture, and there never was a smoking gun. The image that went out on television screens was the slowed-down, angry face of a man with a Fu Manchu. At least it was a full Fu Manchu.
What was he saying? The lips moved as if they were part of a curious dream sequence in a foreign film. What was that? The viewers at home became part of a national jury. The crime was...what? Swearing? Showing up an umpire? Overstepping traditional lines? Clemens was gone, ejected a third of the way through the second inning of a playoff game. Eyes were focused on him. His rage filled the screen.