One by one his teammates hugged him so tightly, so earnestly
behind the pitcher's mound at The Ballpark in Arlington that it
seemed as if someone in this welcome wagon in spikes would hand
over a basket of freshly baked muffins. Roger Clemens had worn
the pinstripes for eight months, but only last Saturday night,
after polishing off the New York Yankees' pathetic little
sparring partner, the Texas Rangers, in an American League
Division Series sweep, did he become one of the Yankees. With
seven steely, clinical innings of shutout pitching, Clemens
justified the bombshell trade that brought him to New York,
debunked his reputation for getting overly emotional in big
games and, for the first time, introduced his old self to new
teammates. "What I saw on his face," fellow New York righthander
David Cone said after the game, "was relief. It was a defining
moment in his career, and I think he knew it going in."
"It may be the first time that he realized there are people who
are here to help him," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He's the
kind of guy who likes to go it alone, figure things out for
himself. Tonight he was more a Yankee than he's ever been."
As it did last year, New York permitted Texas only one run in
three Division Series games. Starting pitchers Orlando
Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and Clemens took care of 67 of the 81
outs while Cone, the author this season of a perfect game and
owner of the best ERA in the league outside of the Boston Red
Sox' exceptional Pedro Martinez, wasn't even needed.
In a week when the teams of Martinez, the Arizona Diamondbacks'
Randy Johnson, the Atlanta Braves' Greg Maddux and the Houston
Astros' Mike Hampton went 0-4 when those aces took the ball, the
Yankees underscored the value of having depth in a rotation.
They're the only club in baseball with four starters who have
pitched the opening game of a postseason series. Heading into
the League Championship Series this week against the Red Sox,
New York's starters were 13-1 over the past two postseasons.
Torre's edge: He can start a premium pitcher every game without
even having to consider using one on short rest.
Clemens enriched the rotation with his coming-out party in the
3-0 win last Saturday night. Call it addition by Division. Until
then the Yankees had traded for Cy Young and received J.D.
Salinger. "We haven't had the chance to get to know him," second
baseman Chuck Knoblauch said last Saturday. "We don't see much
of him. We joke around, 'Is he here today?'"
After every inning Clemens pitched in exhibition games at the
Yankees' spring training site in Tampa, he would bolt down the
dugout runway and disappear. He'd always be back in the dugout
after his teammates had made the second out of their turn at
bat. He'd be breathing heavily. Fresh beads of sweat dripped
from his brow.
Wondering, What was this guy up to? catcher Jorge Posada
discreetly followed Clemens one night. He watched him duck into
the dugout tunnel, pass through a rear door of the clubhouse,
turn left, walk past the batting cages under the rightfield
stands and arrive at an outside area of practice mounds. There,
in near darkness, Clemens would grunt his way through a
monotonous drill known as pickups, in which he would field a
ground ball rolled to his left by a coach, then shuffle to field
one to his right, then back to his left and so on. Posada,
careful not to reveal his surveillance, shook his head in
Clemens kept to his little dark corner all year. He routinely
disappeared into the weight room at Yankee Stadium, where he
would train by himself or mime his delivery over and over in
front of a wall of mirrors, trying to burn into his muscles'
memory the proper position of his right arm at the moment the
baseball left his hand. All the while Yankees fans refused to
embrace him, mostly because he won only 14 of 24 decisions,
posted a career-worst 4.60 ERA and walked batters at a rate
(4.32 per nine innings) exceeded among American League pitchers
only by Tampa Bay Devil Rays righthander Bobby Witt. Also,
Clemens wasn't David Wells, the popular lefthander whom the
Yankees sent to the Toronto Blue Jays with two other players to
get Clemens. Wells was the kind of guy who did his running and
pickups at New York's watering holes. Gotham loved that nearly
as much as Wells's postseason portfolio (8-1), which made
Clemens's (1-2 in nine starts until Saturday) look inadequate.
"I'm my own worst critic," Clemens said after beating Texas,
"but I did win 14 games, and in the 10 games I lost we didn't
score many runs . I had my way with the league for the past
two years [when he won Cy Young awards with Toronto]. I just
haven't had it here."
On the last weekend of the regular season Torre told Clemens
that he would not start against Texas until Game 3. Clemens
looked Torre in the eye and said flatly, "That's just what I
want." The No. 3 spot in the rotation would mean that Clemens
would have the chance to close out a series in his home state in
front of his family and friends on the same day his beloved
Texas football team took on archrival Oklahoma 30 miles away in
Dallas. He watched the first half in his hotel room, the second
half in the Yankees' clubhouse. The football game was a timely
diversion for someone who becomes notoriously spring-loaded
before important starts. Catcher Joe Girardi immediately noticed
a becalmed Clemens in their pregame review of the Rangers'
On the mound Clemens operated with the measured manner of a
surgeon performing a routine appendectomy. He threw 79 fastballs
among his 103 pitches, including heaters on the first pitch to
23 of the 26 batters he faced. He allowed five base runners on
three hits and two walks, but none made it as far as third base.
On the few occasions when he did fall behind a batter, he turned
his back to the plate to make certain centerfielder Bernie
Williams was playing deep. Then he'd throw tailing fastballs to
the outside of the plate to take advantage of the biggest
expanse of the ballpark. Williams chased down four flies there.
Clemens, whose faith rests on the investment of an extra mile or
an extra set of leg lifts, came out from his little dark corner.
"He's usually screaming at us in the infield, things like,
'Let's go!'" Knoblauch said afterward. "This time he was calm,
with a quiet confidence about himself."
Clemens figures to carry that confidence into another homecoming
game, his likely Game 3 start on Saturday at Fenway Park. He's
3-1 with a 2.50 ERA in seven starts against Boston since he left
the Red Sox as a free agent following the 1996 season. Clemens
has prospered when Torre has given him extra rest this year, as
will be the case against Boston. He's 9-3 with a 3.75 ERA with
five or more days of rest, compared to 6-7 with a 5.36 ERA in
his regular turn. Next to Babe Ruth, Clemens is the greatest
player to know both sides of one of baseball's top rivalries.
In a private area of the clubhouse afterward, Clemens hugged his
mother, other family members, college buddies and all the other
people, as he put it, who are "close to me who wouldn't have
been able to see me pitch a weeknight game in New York. That's
what made this so special." Cone said he saw relief in their
Clemens is 37 years old, and this was the first postseason game
he had won since he was 24, when he pitched Game 7 of the 1986
Championship Series for the Red Sox against the California
Angels. "The champagne never gets any warmer," he said. "It
definitely gets colder as you go."
The Yankees are such a prudent team that Girardi made sure that
the visiting clubhouse man ordered mostly nonalcoholic
champagne, partly in deference to designated hitter Darryl
Strawberry, the recovering alcoholic who gave Clemens all his
runs with a three-run bomb of a home run in the first inning.
Ersatz bubbly dripped from Clemens's spiked haircut, down the
nape of his neck and over a scrape across the back of his
shoulders. Clemens is such a fanatical runner that he's known to
scale chain-link fences along his way. The scratch was a
reminder that not all his obstacles are so easily cleared.
THE SCOUT'S VIEW
Chuck Knoblauch 2B
Can hit the ball out of the park, but sometimes falls in love
with home run stroke. Will chase the ball up in the zone. At his
best when deep in the count. A liability defensively, especially
his arm (14 throwing errors).
Derek Jeter SS
The Yankees' glue. Has great plate coverage. Must throw his
balance off by working him up and down, inside and out.
Paul O'Neill RF
Slowed down defensively. Send the runner on anything hit to his
left or right. One of the best in baseball at fouling off
pitches. Tough in the clutch.
Bernie Williams CF
Can play poorly or great. Streaky switch-hitter who's much
better from left side. Has trouble with slider under his hands
and fastballs that tail back over the inside corner. Never seen
him throw a guy out.
Tino Martinez 1B
In a short series he's either red-hot or ice-cold. Throw him
hard breaking balls in. Will chase the ball up.
Chili Davis/Darryl Strawberry DH
Davis is a notorious low-ball hitter from the left side.
Anything above the waist, he's an out. His bat has slowed.
Strawberry will almost always chase balls away.
Ricky Ledee LF
Occasional power. Pretty good idea of the strike zone. Decent
outfielder with O.K. arm.
Joe Girardi/Jorge Posada C
Girardi, the better defender, is likely to play more because of
the emphasis on pitching and defense. He's good at bunting and
the hit-and-run. Posada seems to lack confidence after losing
playing time to Girardi. He'll chase bad pitches.
Scott Brosius 3B
Tremendous defensively. Pitchers tend to forget about him
offensively--a big mistake. Likes fastballs, especially up.
Susceptible to hard breaking balls.
OF Chad Curtis is a good defensive player, though he can
inexplicably screw up a routine play. Chases high pitches.
1B-DH-C Jim Leyritz has come up big in the past, but now he's
playing mostly on reputation. Will also chase the ball up. The
more he plays, the less you like him. 3B Clay Bellinger is used
only as a pinch runner, SS Luis Sojo not at all.
Orlando Hernandez, RHP Very susceptible to lefthanded batters.
Eats up righthanders with variety of breaking balls and
four-seam fastballs up and away. Fields very well and will
display a good pickoff move.
Andy Pettitte, LHP A big-game pitcher who makes the most of an
88-mph fastball--for instance, will sink it and cut it. Small
slider is deceptive to a lefthanded hitter. Has a good changeup.
Can beat you in many ways.
Roger Clemens, RHP Make him throw as many pitches as possible.
One thing he's shown this year is inability to throw strikes
with all of his pitches. Velocity (can get as high as 96 mph
with the heater) is still the same. Rocket has a tendency to get
rattled in big games, letting the moment get the best of him.
David Cone, RHP Another big-game pitcher with mental toughness.
Adds and subtracts speeds on his fastball as well as anyone.
Great slider. Good splitter. Tends to throw a lot of pitches.
Will give all he has, even if it's only for five innings.
RH closer Mariano Rivera has well-above-average fastball; can
run it up in zone. Cut fastball takes lefties out. A
strike-throwing machine. Unbelievable confidence. RH Jeff Nelson
has periods of wildness. Take pitches and make him throw
strikes. Has sinking fastball and sweeping slider. LH Mike
Stanton is overrated. Doesn't throw a lot of strikes and is
vulnerable to righthanded batters. Good breaking ball. Fastball
is out of the zone more than it's in. RH Ramiro Mendoza is the
perfect guy to settle things down, whether early or late. Throws
strikes with sinker. Would be No. 3 starter on many teams. LH Ed
Yarnall has a good breaking ball, deceptive delivery. Rookie not
likely to be used in key spot. RH Hideki Irabu, spotty starter
during the season, is long relief man.
HOW TO BEAT THEM
The Yankees work the count and know how to hit with two strikes.
They can play long ball; they can play little ball. Opponents'
starters have to set the tone, find some way to shut New York
down. How? Change speeds. Mess up the Yankees' timing.