You had to be either a real pitching connoisseur or a card-carrying, long-suffering Orioles diehard to appreciate the beauty of the mound duel at Camden Yards last night.
To be fair, the Orioles' interim manager should probably be included in that group. "These are the kinds of pitching matchups people want to come and watch," Dave Trembley said before Yankees-Orioles Game 2.
The rest of the universe saw the game as Roger Clemens' latest chance at baseball immortality and saw Erik Bedard as the other guy. Clemens' quest to be the second major league pitcher in the past eight decades to win 350 games was thwarted.
It wasn't so much the four runs Clemens gave up, all in his sixth and last inning last night. It was the zero Bedard gave up in seven innings. The Orioles' big sixth inning notwithstanding, Clemens didn't get outpitched by much - but he got outpitched.
To paraphrase Trembley, the "future Hall of Famer" got edged by "the up-and-comer." Clemens has nearly 17 years, seven Cy Youngs and 316 wins on Bedard, not to mention a slightly better salary this season.
Yet when they went head-to-head last night, they were even through five, and Clemens was the one to crack.
So the Rocket 350 caravan rolls on. He has fallen short of the milestone in his past three starts and, worse, he's not exactly paying dividends on the prorated $28 million contract he wormed out of the Yankees in early May. You could almost give him a pass last night - almost.
He was not terribly sharp. He fell behind a lot. His fastball and slider were fine, but as the night wore on, fewer Orioles batters were biting on his split-finger.
Regardless of anyone's feelings about his age, contract or motives, the man who can still bring it with the best of them somehow failed to strike out a batter. That ended a streak of 200 starts in which he had struck out at least one batter, the third-longest active streak in baseball. Any sane baseball watcher had to take a streak like that for granted. Clemens going a full start without a strikeout? It was like Vladimir Guerrero's streak of games in which he swung his bat.
It all caught up to Clemens in the sixth, which began with a single and was followed by a walk, an RBI single and a three-run homer by Aubrey Huff, a guy who hadn't cleared the fence since early May.
But until then, Clemens had matched zeroes with Bedard, and there is nothing more you can ask of him. You could have asked a lot more of the Yankees' bats, which from the beginning of the season were a problem no Cooperstown-bound legend could have fixed.
It was the seventh loss in eight games on the Yankees' road trip, and Clemens has two of them. This has taken Clemens' mind off history.
"It would mean a lot, because it would mean a win," he said. "I have plenty of wins in my career, and I feel fortunate to be back and traveling with these guys."
However, he acknowledged, "I say the same thing I said last week: It's not going to get any easier, and nobody's going to hand anything to us."
Besides, Bedard ended up pitching the same kind of game Clemens pitched - only better. Lots of pitches, lots of deep counts but, somehow, not many base runners and nothing even resembling a threat. Bedard pitches a lot of games like that but rarely leaves them with a 4-0 lead.
There have been so many times this season when Bedard has left a game - early, it always seems, with the demand always to get him deeper into his starts - with a slender lead, and seen a win evaporate. So many times, as well, when he has out-dueled a particular starter, made only a mistake or two and seen every last one of them come back to haunt him. So many times he has had to wonder whether he needed to throw a shutout every time he went out there, or whether someone could give him a cushy lead, or protect a thin one.
He got a fairly cushy one this time and, despite some sweaty moments in the ninth that had little to do with the heat and humidity at the ballpark, he was rewarded. Stringing together zeroes, of course, never hurt the cause.
Clemens didn't string together enough of them. Thus, he didn't get to join Warren Spahn as the only pitchers since the Wilson administration to reach 350 wins. Spahn did it in 1963, when Clemens was a year old and 16 years before Bedard was born. It's such a rare feat that Clemens' manager, Joe Torre, caught the milestone win for Spahn.
Before the game, he and Trembley marveled at the sustained excellence of Clemens' career. Torre talked about how Clemens had worked the day before to get caught up on a team he hadn't seen yet this season because of his late arrival and getting increasingly familiar with his own team.
"That's just remarkable to me, to look at Roger at his age, taking nothing for granted, working every aspect of his game, even on days when he doesn't pitch," Torre said.
Once the game started, Clemens produced something less than excellence, but something well-sustained.
The real excellence was produced by the other guy.