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Angels put Red Sox into early ALCS hole

It didn’t take long for the California Angels to turn The Possible Dream into a Red Sox nightmare last night.

All the fond hopes for an inspirational victory by Roger Clemens and a fast start by the Red Sox were dashed in the second inning of an 8-1 California victory. Suddenly, emphatically, the entire complexion of the best- of-seven American League Championship Series has changed. The Angels have the momentum that most of the 32,993 at Fenway Park assumed would belong to the Red Sox.

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Clemens, a shoo-in for the AL Cy Young Award, figured to have a tough time against California’s Mike Witt. But he dug an early grave for himself by giving up four runs in a startling 45-pitch inning, the second, and the Red Sox simply couldn’t climb out of it.

The reason they couldn’t was Witt, who was everything Clemens was expected to be last night, and more. The 6-foot-7-inch California righthander had a no- hitter for five innings and faced the minimum of 17 batters before giving up a two-out walk to Spike Owen and an infield single to Wade Boggs in the sixth. Marty Barrett then spoiled Witt’s shutout bid with a single to right, scoring Owen.

Witt used only 116 pitches and gave up but five hits. He was in command and had Red Sox hitters going after his pitch after the first inning, and Boston’s last three hits came much too late to do any damage.

Clemens was making his first start since last Wednesday when he suffered an elbow injury on a line drive. Last night he threw a fastball of 90-plus miles an hour, as usual. But his control was off, and in the second inning, he walked two batters with two out, then paid the price that usually goes with such charity.

After walks to Bob Boone and Gary Pettis, the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters in the order, Clemens gave up an RBI single to Ruppert Jones, a run-scoring double to rookie star Wally Joyner and a two-run single to Brian Downing. It matched his worst inning of the year -- he also gave up four in the second against Baltimore Sept. 10 -- and neither Clemens nor the Red Sox could recover from such an untimely lapse.

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“I didn’t feel my control was that far off,” said Clemens. “I had a pretty live fastball, got behind and had to come in. That made trouble for myself.

“You can’t walk people. That will always hurt you. It’s frustrating with two out to put people on that way. They hit the ball where we weren’t.”

Sox manager John McNamara agreed that the game turned because his young pitcher appeared to be almost “too strong,” and the Angels were able to take advantage of Clemens before he could settle down.

“Roger could have been over-strong,” said McNamara, who left his righthander in for 7 1/3 innings, during which he threw 144 pitches. “He hadn’t pitched but one-plus inning last week. He struck out two guys, and then the tail end of the order did us in.

“After that, he pitched very well. In this ballpark, five runs are not that many. We have a very good offensive ballclub. But we just didn’t do anything offensively. Give Witt credit for pitching a very good ballgame and doing a very good job.”

Clemens may have been unlucky in the second. Larry Barnett was the plate umpire, and chances are he will never ever endear himself to Boston fans. Clemens refused to say he was squeezed on a couple of pitches during the duels that turned into walks. He had no comment on a 1-2 pitch to Downing that became controversial because the Angel left fielder suggested that Barnett might have missed a called third strike that would have gotten Clemens out of the inning trailing, 2-0.

After giving up the double to Joyner, Clemens got ahead of Downing, 0 and 2. The count eventually went to 3-2, and Downing drilled a two-run single to left. But he didn’t seem to be all that proud of it.

“I got a couple of close calls,” he said. “The 1-2 was a pitch that, to be honest, was too tough to take. I took the same pitch the first time, and the umpire called it a ball. I figured he might call it a ball again, but to be truthful, it was too close to take.”

Witt didn’t have any such problems. He lost both his no-hitter and shutout in the sixth, but said both were in the back of his mind at that point in what to him was still a close game.

“The no-hitter was like an afterthought in that inning,” said Witt. “I was more involved in the game and concerned with getting the third out.”

The second game of the best-of-seven series will be played today, and now the Red Sox are hoping for a 1-1 split before the long trek to the West Coast for three games. It is Boston that must worry about momentum.

The Angels are not going to be happy with a split, said Downing.

“We haven’t forgotten our experience in Milwaukee in 1982. We were up in the series, 2-0, and had to win only one of three in Milwaukee. We didn’t.”

Mauch said he was happy that Witt came through with the kind of pitching he’d come to expect from his ace righthander.

“That’s the way we expect him to pitch,” said Mauch. “It just doesn’t always work out that way. He was very good tonight. Nobody could be absolutely sure what pitch they’d get to hit because he kept things under control.”

Mauch said he still isn’t sure the Angels have figured out Clemens.

“Clemens went out there strong,” said Mauch, “and we still beat his hard stuff. Early, his curve wasn’t as big as earlier in the season. Later in the game, he softened up and was a little tougher.

“I don’t put any special significance on beating Roger Clemens. We beat the Red Sox. We won the first game and got a chance to go up, 2-0.”

But the impact of this victory could have transcended one game, because the Angels believe that it’s up to Clemens to keep the momentum in the Red Sox clubhouse.

“I know they feel when they get a few runs early, he’s invincible,” said Downing. “And normally he is. We don’t get a lot of hits for the most part. But we get a lot of two-out hits. That’s where the experience of this club comes in. We haven’t forgotten what happened in Milwaukee. We know it’s only one win.”

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