In pairing of aces, Clemens folds

October 17, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

BOSTON -- By the seventh inning, Roger Clemens was long gone, but the Fenway Faithful wanted an encore.

"Where is Ro-ger?" they chanted. "Where is Ro-ger?"

Since this was October, the answer could only be the shower.

If George Steinbrenner once labeled Dave Winfield "Mr. May," what would he call a rocket that routinely falls out of the October sky?

"Roger is a big boy," the Boss said afterward. "These things happen. You just can't let them happen again."

Clemens seemed to grasp that much in the aftermath of the Yankees' 13-1 loss yesterday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

Yet, he seemed more content with the way he threw than Pedro Martinez, which tells you all you need to know about yesterday's matchup for the ages.

The losing pitcher:

"I felt great. In the bullpen, everything went pretty well. My velocity was pretty good. I took it to the mound with me, too I was locked in pretty good ... I feel that I had everything working that I had in Texas except maybe some location."

The winning pitcher:

"I'm not going to get better from one day to the other. I strained my [back] muscle. I'm out there with God in front of me and my teammates. I'm not hiding anything. I'm hurting. I'm hurting on every pitch I throw."

Even if Clemens had such an explanation, many in New England would not consider it acceptable. He has won five Cy Young Awards and twice struck out 20 hitters in a game. But just once, it would be nice if he could deliver a postseason performance worthy of his Hall of Fame career.

The Rocket had a perfect opportunity yesterday in front of fans who taunted him, a general manager who spurned him and an opposing pitcher who replaced him as the Red Sox ace.

But how did he respond?

By blinking in the twilight.

By adding to his October misery.

By giving hope to the hopeless -- namely the Red Sox, who last won the World Series in 1918.

Just as Clemens melted down against Dave Stewart in the 1990 ALCS -- remember his eruption at umpire Terry Cooney in the war-paint game? -- he offered no match for Martinez, the Stewart of 1999.

Eight base runners, six outs. Four extra-base hits, including a two-run homer by John Valentin. Five runs in two-plus innings -- as many as the Red Sox had scored in the first two games.

The crowd loved every minute of it, serenading Clemens with chants of "Ro-ger, Ro-ger." The Red Sox still trail two games to one, but they set or tied five playoff records yesterday in a game started by the most hated Yankee of all.

In "The Summer of '49," his book about a memorable Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, author David Halberstam wrote of a "fever in the streets" before a critical Fenway series against New York.

The fever struck again yesterday, a half-century later.

The Red Sox put extra tickets on sale at 10 a.m., and a little girl raced down Yawkey Way with her father after scoring two, waving her prized pair gleefully.

A woman dressed as a witch shouted that she would end "The Curse of the Bambino." A man dressed as Uncle Sam held a sign that said, "This Yankee loves the Red Sox."

The Yankees had won 12 straight postseason games. The Red Sox had lost 10 straight in the ALCS since Clemens' Game 7 victory over the Angels in 1986. But anything seems possible now.

Bret Saberhagen (3 2/3 frightful innings in two Division Series starts) faces Andy Pettitte tonight. But if the Red Sox can somehow extend the series to a Game 7, it would be a Clemens-Martinez rematch at Yankee Stadium.

Who would you like in that sucker?

Clemens has now won only two of 11 postseason starts, with an ERA of 4.04. Even his two victories came with qualifiers. The 1986 Angels were shellshocked after the Dave Henderson home run off Donnie Moore in Game 5. And the 1999 Rangers again wilted at the sight of Yankees.

In fairness, Clemens was occasionally victimized by his relievers and managers in his years with Boston, but controversy still rages over whether he asked out of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He had no excuses yesterday. Martinez had every excuse. And it was Martinez who threw seven shutout innings.

"In the first inning, I had exactly what I had the whole game -- nothing," Martinez said, smiling. "I didn't have a fastball. I didn't feel like I had a good breaking ball or a good changeup at all."

Martinez estimated that he threw no harder than 89 mph, but just as in his Game 5 performance against Cleveland in the Division Series, he demonstrated remarkable pitching savvy.

"He's an artist out there," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He's got a baseball instead of a paint brush. There is no question that he carves up that plate pretty good and tries to keep you from sitting back and waiting for any particular pitch."

Martinez is now 3-0 lifetime in the postseason with a 1.13 ERA. He has pitched 17 scoreless innings in these playoffs. His 12 strikeouts yesterday set a Red Sox postseason record that had been shared by Bill Dineen (1903) and Smokey Joe Wood (1912). Including his one-hit, 17-strikeout masterpiece at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 10, here is Martinez's combined pitching line from his last two starts against the Yankees:

IP 16, H 3, R 0, BB 2, SO 29.

Gulp.

Red Sox GM Dan Duquette predicted that yesterday would be a defining moment not just for Clemens and Martinez, but also himself. And you know what? Losing Clemens might be the best thing that ever happened to Boston.

It created the opening for Duquette to trade for Martinez and sign him to a six-year contract. It created a matchup for the ages that had only one logical outcome.

Where was Roger?

The Fenway Faithful knew.

They had seen "The Rocket" fall out of the October sky before.

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