Clemens' last start in Boston has drama

Matchup against Martinez adds to anticipation of Yankees-Red Sox rivalry

Baseball

October 11, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Since leaving the Boston Red Sox in a bitter divorce seven years ago, Roger Clemens has felt the wrath of their loyal fans, and the love.

They'll reach out to him today during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. He's just not sure whether they'll want to embrace him or choke him.

In a rivalry that doesn't need any more hype, here comes a little bit more.

Slipping on the gray road uniform of the New York Yankees, Clemens will make his last start at Fenway Park before retiring to his wife, four children and six Cy Young Awards. He'll be opposed by three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, just as he was in the 1999 ALCS and just as the baseball gods wanted it.

"I think everyone is anticipating that game," Red Sox manager Grady Little said before yesterday's workout.

"As a purist," said pitching coach Dave Wallace, "anybody can appreciate that matchup. Anytime you have something like this, you just cherish it and relish it and look forward to seeing how each guy performs and what happens during the ballgame.

"Isn't it really supposed to come to this?"

In a career full of lasting images, perhaps none will be more vivid, more sentimental, than the rousing ovation Clemens received from the Red Sox's crowd as he completed his Aug. 31 start.

At the time, it could have been his last appearance at Fenway, and the occasion was marked by a curtain call. On this day, all the animosity over his defection to the Toronto Blue Jays, and later the Yankees, had evaporated.

"The question that was going around that weekend was, `How do you think he'll be received?' Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "and at the time I said, `I'm not sure how the Red Sox fans will receive him, but I think privately they're going to be proud that he wore a Red Sox uniform and they are going to still feel that he belonged to them.'

"As he walked off the field that day, there were a lot of goose bumps out there on the mound."

"It was great," Clemens said. "I think I reflected on it after that start. But it's no different than today. Going out to lunch, getting up, the fans who were my fans when I was here were great. But I understand and they understand the situation now. I'm pitching against the Red Sox."

He was reminded of how treacherous that can be during Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS, when chants of "Where's Roger? In the shower" filled the air after he allowed five runs in two innings. He also walked five batters, as the Red Sox rolled to a 13-1 victory.

"He handled it with a lot of class," Torre said. "I know in his mind, he felt he let everybody down."

It was Clemens' only playoff start in Boston as an opposing pitcher - he's 5-0 with a 3.30 ERA during the regular season - but it doesn't consume him. He isn't bitter, and he isn't motivated by it today.

"I haven't really remembered a lot of it," he said. "I just remember that once I was out of the game, it got way out of hand. But it was only one game. I don't really dwell on those situations. I've had bad games before."

The Yankees can't afford a repeat if they're going to take a 2-1 lead in the series and regain the advantage they lost when Boston prevailed in Game 1 against Mike Mussina.

Though speaking in serious tones, Clemens appeared relaxed yesterday during an interview session that Martinez skipped as part of his media boycott.

The Red Sox have adopted "Cowboy up" as their motto. Martinez would rather shut up.

"I think the day is coming that he will again speak to the press," Little said, "but right now he wants to continue doing what he has been doing and try not to break his karma."

That job belongs to Clemens, who hasn't pitched since winning Game 3 of the AL Division Series last Saturday against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome. He'll be rested. Is there any doubt he'll be ready?

"I'm trying to enjoy all of this, but once you hit the field, I've trained myself over the years that it all comes down to getting on the mound and seeing how my body feels and making good pitches," he said. "If I don't have a little adrenaline rush early, I'll be as surprised as anyone. I expect to be excited about it."

Torre has noted the changes in Clemens since that 1999 ALCS loss, how he seems more in control of his emotions, which should serve him well today.

"He understands this is the last time he's going to be doing all these things," Torre said. "He's going to walk away, as far as I know, and he's enjoying it."

"I know as we march through these playoffs that my starts are coming toward an end," Clemens said. "You just don't want it to be the next one."

NOTES: Johnny Damon took batting practice again yesterday and guaranteed that he'll be in the lineup after missing the first two games with a concussion. ... Enrique Wilson, who's 10-for-20 against Martinez, will start at third base today. He's replacing Aaron Boone, who's 3-for-18 (.167) in the playoffs.

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