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Roger Clemens thrills Fenway with his return

Ex-Sox pitcher comes back with a vengeance

Roger Clemens once again had Fenway fans cheering for him after striking out 16 Red Sox batters for the Blue Jays.

Michael Robinson-Chavez/Globe Staff

Roger Clemens once again had Fenway fans cheering for him after striking out 16 Red Sox batters for the Blue Jays.

What do you say about a pitcher who fans 16 batters in eight innings without walking a man; who has one 3-1 count, four 2-1 counts, and no 2-0 counts; who goes strike one on 17 men, and who finishes his late afternoon and early evening’s work by striking out the side on 10 pitches?

Oh, I dunno. How about, ``Why can’t we find pitchers like this?’’

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Anything anybody says is obvious. The 33,106 people who made Fenway Park a happening place yesterday were privileged to see a mound maestro in peak form. That Roger Clemens was doing it to -- rather than for -- the Red Sox is an indictment of John Harrington and Dan Duquette, who decided that what Clemens might do in 2000 is of more interest than what he could do for the team today.

Clemens is so dominating this year that it is conceivable this man-vs.-boys performance against his old team might not even be his best show of the season. The Yankees would swear, I am sure, that he was even better against them on an evening back in May. But this wasn’t bad, folks. It wasn’t a shutout, but after allowing a scratch run in the first inning, Clemens was not going to allow anything. He knew it, and, more important, the Red Sox knew it.

Roger was so good he even managed to turn the crowd around. When he bounded out of the dugout at precisely 4:48 p.m. to start his trek to the visiting bullpen to warm up, the reaction was a hearty mixture of cheers and boos, and I would say that the boos predominated. But by the time Roger had finished embarrassing Nomar Garciaparra, John Valentin, and Mo Vaughn with the aforementioned 10-pitch dispatch in the eighth, Fenway Park was once again playing host to a regional meeting of the Roger Clemens Fan Club. They were chanting ``Rock-Et!’’ and they were standing as they were doing it.

The boos were reserved for beleagured Toronto manager Cito Gaston, whom the mob indentified as the villain in this little morality play. Bad enough, they reasoned, that Cito had decided to pull Roger after the eighth and thus remove all the drama from the game. But even worse was the fact that he turned the ninth inning into a needless yawnfest by sending out four pitchers to face five Red Sox hitters. By the time Paul Spoljaric got Darren Bragg on a pop-up to end the game, the few fans remaining had almost forgotten that Roger had gotten off the bus. Every scintilla of energy had been sucked out of the ballpark.

Roger got his skipper off the hook, or, at least, he tried to. ``I’ve got another one in five days that’s gonna be tough,’’ he said, alluding to a forthcoming start in Arlington, Texas, against the Rangers. ``The eighth inning was going to be my last. If the leadoff man had gotten on, that would be my last guy. When I came off the field, Cito shook my hand and said, `Good job.’ ‘’

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Very perceptive, that Cito. A ``good job’’ these days is a so-called ``quality start,’’ which consists of six innings and no more than three earned runs. What Roger did -- or, shall we say, does -- is on a somewhat higher plane.

Roger Clemens is pitching as well as or better than he ever has, and that includes the storied 1986 season. ``The most impressive things about Clemens,’’ said an admiring Jimy Williams, ``are his consistency, durability, and conditioning. I haven’t really seen him for nine years, but he looks the same as he did in ‘88, and he overpowered us then.’’

He is 14-3 with a 1.66 ERA for a team that can’t score runs. His 16 strikeouts yesterday are a team record. Randy Johnson has been great, but if they were voting on the Cy Yound Award today, Roger Clemens would have to be a landslide winner. Nobody has pitched better.

The only thing more predictable than Clemens hitting the black with a 95 mile-per-hour heater was the guarantee that Roger would try to low-key this dazzling vindication of his greatness in front of the very folks who made the decision to enter the next four years without the best pitcher the Red Sox have ever had, at least in the eyes of anyone still breathing. (If you honestly can say you saw Cy Young, and can speak eloquently on the subject, then call up the program director at WEEI and ask him to give you your own show.)

Here is what Roger said: ``It was a great deal of fun. I’m glad it turned out the way it did. It was a special day. A beautiful day. It was a typical Saturday during the summer.’’

And here is what he wanted to say: ``Hey, John Harrington and Dan Duquette, what do you think about this?’’

Aaron Sele injected additional juice into this game by tying a career high with 11 strikeouts and by carrying a 1-0 lead into the seventh. But then Sele hit Ed Sprague to lead off the inning. Two pitches later, designated hitter Shawn Green hit a ball that almost decapitated a guy driving one of the Swan Boats. Roger was now up, 2-1, en route to 3-1, and this baby was over, except for, of course, the chilling spectacle of the past and future Cy Young winner erasing the Red Sox in the seventh and eighth on 21 pitches, 18 of them strikes.

American organized sport has become the captive of marketers and hucksters, so much so that real human drama is often difficult to find. But we didn’t need mascots, blaring music, fireworks, or some cheesy giveaway at our lyric little bandbox of a ballpark to manufacture honest-and-pure entertainment yesterday. All we needed was a gifted athlete on a mission. All we needed was Roger Clemens staring down hapless batters at 60 feet 6 inches.

Vengeance can indeed be a beautiful thing.

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