Saturday, June 22, 2013

Roger Clemens: An Erratic October Performer

Impressive statistics aside, Roger Clemens was a little too intense for his own good. He yelled at umpires, taunted opponents and sometimes threw at their heads. To get himself psyched up for starts, he would rub hot linament on his nether regions and (according to one eyewitness) "snort like a bull." Sure, the guy won 354 games and struck out more than 4,600 batters, but in big game situations, he often crumbled under pressure.

In Game 1 of the 1986 ALCS, the Angels lit him up for 10 hits and 7 earned runs over 7.1 innings. In Game 2 of the World Series that year, he was lifted with one out in the fifth after yielding 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 earned runs. Though some might argue that "The Rocket" was only 23 years-old at the time and still trying to find himself, the October meltdowns continued sporadically throughout his career.

His performance in Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS was just plain bizarre. After making a quality start in Game 1, he became irritated with what he perceived as showboating by Oakland players. He made a nuisance of himself on the Boston bench during Games 2 and 3--shouting angrily at players and umpires. Scheduled to start the fourth contest, he took leave of his sanity. The normally clean-shaven right-hander took the mound sporting a Fu-Manchu beard and a thick coat of eye black (a highly unusual practice for a pitcher). He adorned his cleats with plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle faces. After retiring the A's in order in the first, he suddenly lost his effectiveness. On the heels of 2 consecutive singles and a run-scoring fielder's choice, he gave up a walk to the light-hitting Willie Randolph. Unhappy with Gerry Cooney's calls behind the plate, he stared stonily at the ground and shook his head.Cooney, who was fed up with Clemens' antics by that point, barked at the irascible hurler. It was the straw that broke The Rocket's back as he called Cooney several names unfit to print and was promptly tossed out of the game, which was won by the A's, 3-1. 

Clemens had yet another strange mental lapse during the 2000 Subway Series against the Mets.  Facing Mike Piazza during an Interleague matchup earlier in the season, Clemens had plunked his crosstown rival squarely in the helmet, forcing him to miss the All-Star Game with a concussion. Over the course of the season, the story got blown out of proportion as sportswriters speculated when the two would square off again. The showdown arrived on October 22nd--Game 2 of the Fall classic. In the first inning,  Piazza was behind in the count, 1-2, when his bat shattered on contact with a 97 mph fastball. The barrel end came flying toward Clemens, who was so amped up on adrenaline (and God knows what else) that he picked it up and threw it angrily in Piazza's direction. The ball rolled foul and Umpire Charlie Reliford stepped between the two men (though Piazza was so stunned he would likely not have tangled with Clemens anyway). When order was restored, Piazza grounded out to end the inning and Clemens rushed to the clubhouse,where he broke down in tears. The Yankees won the game, 6-5 thanks to an uncharacteristically strong October outing from "The Rocket." 

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