Roger Clemens wanted to dominate. He wanted to come out with a doomsday sense of vengeance, throwing baseballs at unhittable speeds to unhittable places. There was a level of fear and wonder he wanted to establish early. He wanted the first three Oakland A's batters to blink at what they saw, to walk back to the dugout as if they had witnessed truth itself flying across home plate at 97 miles per hour. He wanted to plant the idea in their heads that however long the day might last, success was not a possibility. Total domination. Can't touch this. Roger Clemens wanted what he always wants on the day of a game. Only this day he wanted more.
He had a plan. On Oct. 10 the Boston Red Sox were in trouble. They were not only trailing three games to none in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, they were being embarrassed. The A's were styling on the Red Sox. There were so many cheap moments, so many little struts and laughs. People coming to the Oakland Coliseum were bringing brooms, saying that worst of playoff words: sweep. Enough was enough. In the previous two games Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley had pointed and exulted after striking out the Sox's Dwight Evans. Enough.
Clemens would take care of this in full public view, in front of the national television cameras. Is this the way you want to play, boys? Every strikeout would be followed by a celebration. The first would be an Italian hand gesture. Clemens had worked it out with reserve catcher John Marzano. The right hand would go to the throat, fingers extended. Aaaaaah. Take a seat. Take a hike. The second strikeout would have a handgun finish. Maybe two. The right index finger would be extended toward the batter. Ka-chew. Pow. Dead and gone. Dirty Harry comes to baseball. Maybe Clemens would blow away smoke from his finger after the deed was done.
If this was to be the end of the season, then so be it. He would have some fun. He shaved the stubble he normally grows before a start into a satanic-looking Fu Manchu mustache and beard. His wife hated the Fu Manchu. No matter. He even played with the idea of shaving off one side of the Fu Manchu. What would the A's think if they saw a guy with half a Fu Manchu throwing heat at them? Could they tell which way the sliders would break from a man wearing half a Fu Manchu? Let them fret. They had made the Sox fret enough.
A night earlier, after Boston's third loss, a couple of Clemens's teammates had suggested that everyone come out of the dugout for the fourth game with a feeling of no-tomorrow determination. Everyone should wear eye black, painting on those carbon stripes that look so fearsome on football Sundays everywhere. Had a pitcher ever worn eye black? Probably never in the long history of the game. Clemens would. He would do just about anything. As he took the mound in the noontime California sun, he had a black streak under each eye. He had malice inside the eyes. Are you talking to me? The gray traveling uniform was stretched tight across his chest. The white baseball in his right hand seemed small and lethal.
On his feet—and this somehow never was noticed, not even when all the wild stuff happened—were the fluorescent green faces of two Ninja Turtles. One face was clamped to the shoestrings of each shoe. Clemens had started wearing the Turtles in Texas during the middle of the season to entertain his two young sons. Originally he had painted the faces black because he thought batters might object to the bright green. For the last two games he had worn the Turtles in their natural Day-Glo color. He had noticed that batters increasingly were wearing flashy phosphorescent-colored batting gloves. If the umpires made him remove the Turtles, he would argue that the batting gloves should also be removed. One distraction for another.
He was a Ninja Turtles fan. At home he staged little Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes with his sons. Everyone in the family had the name of a character from the movie. Koby, 3½, was Raphael. Kory, 2, was Donatello. Clemens's wife, Debbie, was April, the friendly news reporter who helps the turtles. Clemens was Shredder. Shredder is a character dressed in a coat and hat covered with outward-pointed knives. Come near Shredder and he puts himself into a lethal Cuisinart spin, slicing and dicing and turning all foes into julienned potatoes. Shredder is the villain.
On Oct. 10, Clemens was Shredder.
"If someone met me on a game day, he wouldn't like me," Clemens says. "The days in between, I'm the goodest guy you can find. On the day of a game? If I'm watching television with you, I'm not hearing you, and I'm not hearing the television. I go to the park.... I should just rent a car every time I pitch. That's how I drive on the day of the game."
It is August. There is going to be a story about Clemens in this magazine. His picture might be on the cover. He does not mind the idea. He invites the photographers to his in-season house in Framingham, Mass. Shots are taken of his two sons in their electric Jeeps in the driveway. Clemens poses in his full Red Sox uniform against a backyard wall of railroad tics he calls the Green Monster. The season is going great. He is in the middle of an 8-0 streak in which he has an 0.80 earned-run average. He is flying. He explains how he accomplishes the feat.