Clemens-Mussina a match of power, finesse

INSIDE PITCH

May 18, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

For a combination of power and finesse pitching, it doesn't get much better than it was last night at Camden Yards.

The matchup between Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina figured to be a classic duel, and it was exactly that. Despite a pair of home runs, one allowed by each, the game evolved into a clinic between two masters, one a veteran, the other a relative newcomer.

From the outset, there was no doubt about Clemens' game plan. They don't call the Red Sox's ace "Rocket" just for alliteration.

And last night was a throwback to his dominant years. Any comparison to last year's atypical performance (11-14, 4.46 ERA) was purely a delusion.

The next time you hear somebody say you can't win in the big leagues relying on a fastball, tell him to check out Rocket Roger. Sure, he still throws a hard slider, and he has developed a forkball that serves effectively as a change of pace.

But the name of the game for Clemens is good old No. 1, the heater. That, plus the kind of control that is exceptional for somebody who warms up at 90 mph.

Mussina can get it up there in a hurry too, but when it comes to velocity, he comes up a couple of mph short. The young right-hander qualifies as a power pitcher, but he best resembles Clemens with his finesse.

While Mussina was establishing every pitch at his command early in the game, Clemens spent the first three innings pouring coal. The first time around, the Orioles' lineup saw almost an exclusive diet of fastballs. It wasn't until the middle innings that his variety came into play.

In the first inning, Clemens threw 17 pitches and 15 of them were fastballs. En route to the 56th double-digit strikeout performance of his career, he needed 50 pitches to get through three innings -- and 38 of them brought nothing but heat.

It was a masterful exhibition as Clemens lived on the outside inch of home plate, coming inside just often enough to keep everybody off balance. And as it turned out, one of the few nonfastballs he threw early in the game may have been the most costly one he threw.

Leo Gomez bounced a slider that would have been a routine third out in the second -- except for Clemens' natural reaction. He tried to bare-hand the ball and it deflected off his fingers for an infield hit.

It took several practice pitches for Clemens to regroup and continue, but the deflection may have taken a toll.

He stayed with his power -- and it lasted for 133 pitches. That was just 10 more than Mussina threw, and that's about how minuscule the difference was between the two aces.

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