OAKLAND, Calif. -- Roger Clemens started one debate yesterday but ended another. His ejection by plate umpire Terry Cooney ignited a controversy that likely will rage all winter. But his loss to Dave Stewart closed the argument over who is the superior big-game pitcher.
Stewart took a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning on the day his team, the Oakland A's, reached the World Series for the third straight year. Clemens staged a temper tantrum for the ages on the day his team, the Boston Red Sox, failed to avoid a four-game sweep.
Maybe Cooney should have issued Clemens a stern warning before ejecting him in the second inning. Maybe Clemens didn't deserve the ejection at all. The point is, Stewart prevailed in a must game, and Clemens did not. In essence, that's the story of their rivalry.
"At this point, at this time, Dave Stewart is the best pitcher in baseball," A's third baseman Carney Lansford said after a 3-0 victory that was utterly anticlimactic. "I firmly believe that. I don't care what anybody else says.
"All you hear is Roger Clemens this, Roger Clemens that. Dave Stewart is a far better pitcher than Roger Clemens. Just look at the numbers he produces every time he goes up against him. I don't care what they say about what Roger does for their team. We're going to the World Series. It's more important what Stewart does for our team."
What Stewart did yesterday was pitch in his usual manner -- with a controlled fury that enabled him to allow only four hits and one walk in eight-plus innings. The Red Sox did not advance a runner past first until Ellis Burks hit a leadoff double in the ninth. Jody Reed followed with an RBI single, and Rick Honeycutt replaced Stewart to earn the save.
Stewart, voted MVP of the American League Championship Series, left to a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd of 49,052 at the Oakland Coliseum. Clemens left only after rightfield umpire Jim Evans ordered him to vacate the Boston dugout an inning after he was ejected.
More Stewart: He set a record for career playoff wins by improving his ALCS mark to 5-0. His 12 consecutive scoreless innings in the series broke a record set by the Orioles' Dave McNally in 1969. And he became only the third pitcher to win three postseason clinchers, joining Jim Hunter and Jim Palmer.
Clemens? "I don't know what's going to be done, what's going to be said," he said with a shrug. "I know what the rules are for umpires. I don't know if it's jealousy toward the players. But I've known since I've been a rookie, the cardinal rule is not to show anyone up."
That, the Red Sox insist, is the central issue. Clemens was in the stretch position when Cooney threw him out. Videotape replays showed him unleashing a stream of expletives at Cooney (Clemens said he cursed only once). Yet, even the umpire acknowledged he fired the first verbal shot.
The dispute began after Clemens walked Willie Randolph on five pitches, with the A's already leading 1-0. "I was looking down," Clemens said. "I saw his throat guard moving so he was saying something. He thought I was talking to him. I told him, 'I'm not shaking my bleeping head at you.' The problem was not with him."
Cooney offered this version: "I saw him out there talking, and I said, 'I hope you are not talking to me.' He told me to take my mask off if I had something to say and I told him I did not want to get into a verbal argument. Then he used several expletives, and had to take some action."
The action, Boston manager Joe Morgan said, should have been a warning. Cooney said, "Not removing my mask was warning enough" -- it showed he did not want to argue. He also said Clemens called him "gutless." Clemens, for his part, termed the entire incident "unbelievable."
That it was, and the resulting melee only heightened the tension. Morgan removed his cap and turned into a jumping jack. Reserve second baseman Marty Barrett earned an ejection by throwing two Gatorade buckets onto the field, as well as another filled with seeds and candy.
Clemens shoved Evans trying to get to Cooney ("there was contact," Evans said, "but I did not consider it an assault on me"). AL president Bobby Brown said he would review the incident before deciding whether Clemens would be disciplined.
Through it all, Stewart sat silently in the A's dugout. "It was a very inopportune time to get kicked out," he would say later. "I can't imagine what he was thinking about at that time." When play resumed, Mike Gallego hit a two-run double off lefthander Tom Bolton, giving Stewart all the runs he needed.
The lingering question is whether Cooney reacted too swiftly in a game of such magnitude. "It was like throwing Joe Montana out of the Super Bowl," Barrett said. Nice analogy, but can you imagine Montana getting into such a position? And can you imagine him saying afterward, "I don't have any remorse?"