Man, it got a bit dusty in here when I watched these games. What a feat. It’s insane that someone can set a record in any sport. Particularly one like strikeouts. But to do match your own record? Insane. And to have those two performances be a decade apart? Beast mode.
Roger Clemens is a polarizing figure for sure. When he went to the Yankees at the end of the 90s he was all but dead to me. The steroid years have kept the Rocket out of the Hall of Fame so far. But that’s just plain stupid.
The man should be in Cooperstown. Period. Despite my frustration at his defecting to New York. And the steroid BS. If nothing else, these two games should be reason enough.
April 29, 1986
At 23 years old, Clemens cruised into Fenway Park and mowed down 20 Seattle Mariners. What’s even more insane is he threw more pitches than Chris Sale can manage in three games combined. In today’s game, there’s not a chance someone would last that long. Going into the 9th he had already thrown 124 pitches. Absolutely unheard of today.
The composure the young Rocket had throughout this game was impressive. Well…minus a momentary blip of throwing his glove into the dugout after giving up a solo shot to Gorman Thomas in the 7th. When he took the mound he was absolutely commanding. Aside from that homer, Clemens gave up a measly two hits and walked NOBODY. Hoooooooooly moly.
According to Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated, home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio told a batboy in the seventh inning that this was the best performance he’d ever seen. Little did he know it would eventually be matched by the Rocket himself, an entire decade later.
September 18, 1996
I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, but there are pieces of this performance in Detroit that are forever imprinted in my brain. I remember growing up hearing about this unbelievable performance by Roger Clemens the year before I was born. I’m sure I had seen some clips of it here and there, but witnessing this game late in the season, amid a wild card race they very much were still alive in? This was it.
Roger absolutely commanded this game. He pitched a five-hit shutout, striking out 20 (duh), and once again not walking anyone. The thing that was crazy about this game, aside from watching the Rocket make the likes of Alan Trammell and Tony Clark take their seats in the dugout multiple times, was his control. He was able to work both sides of the plate, and was throwing 99 into the 9th inning. That’s impressive for anyone, but to see a guy in his 30s do that more than 10 years into his professional career was something.
It’s also worth noting that every batter who came to the plate against Clemens struck out at least once. That’s just…wow.
What struck me most about all of this was the respect paid by fans both home and away. The Red Sox were playing this game at Tiger Stadium. The final two innings of the game nearly everyone was on their feet. Detroit fans were cheering and chanting “Roger!”. Then, when Clemens throws that 2-2 pitch to Travis Fryman and catches him swinging to end the game and tie his record, the place erupts.
That’s the reason I connect so deeply with sports. And with baseball in particular. I watched this game as a 9-year old and was overtaken. It may have only been Roger’s 10th win of the season, but the record doesn’t show how good he was.
Put the guy in the Hall of Fame. If you watch these two games and say “Nope, he doesn’t deserve it!” then you’re probably high.
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