When Roger Clemens left Game 1 of the American League Championship Series after six innings on a balmy fall night, with a harvest moon above, you could feel the chill.
You could see the number on the most significant sign of the night -- “Every 72 years, just like clockwork” -- age a year before your eyes. The Red Sox bullpen, representing the largest difference between Boston and the Oakland A’s, was exposed immediately and often. So much of the Red Sox’ chances -- the possibility that 72 years of curses and frustration might end -- were based upon an emotionally uplifting Clemens win over Dave Stewart in their eighth career matchup. They went up in smoke in a 9-1 Oakland victory on a classically abysmal performance by the bullpen, which gave up nine runs on nine hits in three innings. Seven of those runs came in the ninth, tying an ALCS record for scoring in an inning.
“A beautiful game turned into a horrible evening for the locals, anyway,” said Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. “Tonight was an unfortunate night for us.
“Neither Larry Andersen or Jeff Gray had their stuff. I don’t know why -- it was one of those things. I thought Andersen would come in and baffle them.”
After all was said and done, the Red Sox were right back where they were two years ago -- unable to beat Stewart. Unable to beat the A’s.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Morgan as he looked ahead to Game 2 in the best-of-seven series. “We’ve got to win tomorrow.”
The Law of Averages cried for Clemens to beat Stewart. But when Clemens departed with a 1-0 lead after six, four of the five Red Sox relievers -- a walking Murphy’s Law -- coughed it up. You could almost see Stewart’s eyes light up after Clemens’ departure. Stewart lasted eight innings, allowing four hits and one run. Dennis Eckersley, who had been up in the eighth in a close (2-1) game, pitched the ninth.
Clemens-Stewart VIII was great while it lasted. Clemens allowed four hits and ran his scoreless string to 12 innings since his return from severe tendinitis. But after 96 pitches, Clemens was burned out and the much-maligned bullpen was on its way to fuel the biggest fire since Mrs. Murphy’s cow.
“He was dead,” said Morgan, who added it was his decision to yank Clemens. “He probably wouldn’t have gone out of the seventh . . . His shoulder felt excellent before, during and after the game. It was my decision but he knew it was time. Speaking of time ...”
The first culprit was loser Andersen in the seventh. This was the second time the A’s had faced Andersen. The first time -- Sept. 4 -- was Andersen’s finest moment with the Sox as he struck out a career-high six in 2 2/3 innings. But he drowned in his baptism to American League playoff action. He started by walking Mark McGwire, who had gone 1 for 27 against Clemens. After
Walt Weiss forced McGwire, pinch hitter Jamie Quirk worked a nice hit-and-run, grounding a single up the middle that sent Weiss to third. Andersen worked the count to 3-2 to Rickey Henderson, who then lofted a drifting fly to center on which Ellis Burks tried to position himself in order to make a strong throw.
Burks’ throw reached catcher Tony Pena in the air. The ball and Weiss seemed to enter Pena’s path of vision precisely at the same time. The ball was jarred out of Pena’s glove as Weiss crossed the plate with the tying run.
After Andersen allowed an eighth-inning leadoff single to Jose Canseco, Morgan went to Tom Bolton, the odd man out of the starting rotation. Bolton pitched to lefthanded-hitting cleanup batter Harold Baines, who sacrificed Canseco to second. Morgan yanked the lefty for Gray.
“I didn’t think he could bunt in all those years in Chicago. I just wanted a runner in scoring position,” said Oakland manager Tony La Russa.
The A’s took advantage of Gray’s extremely slow delivery as Canseco stole third while Pena hurried and threw to the shortstop side of the bag. Carney Lansford punched a single to right, scoring Canseco with the go-ahead run.
After Gray came a continuous parade of disasters waiting to happen. Dennis Lamp allowed four runs in one-third of an inning, and Rob Murphy finished things off with a run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning. Lansford added a run-scoring double and Henderson a two-run single in the ninth.
Clemens started strong and struggled to get through six innings without allowing a run. The Red Sox were beating the A’s at their own game -- power. Wade Boggs’ fourth-inning homer was all the Sox could muster against Stewart.
It was obvious Clemens was running out of gas. The A’s threatened to score in innings 4-6. The toughest jam was Clemens’ final inning. The A’s put two aboard with none out, but Baines (15 for 48 vs. Clemens) hit a liner to second for a double play that was almost a triple play as Clemens wiggled out of that trouble.
‘’I thought he did a superb job,” said Stewart. “A healthy Roger could have carried that game a little further. Fortunately for us, his shoulder wouldn’t allow him to go after the sixth. There was a big difference in his control to start the sixth inning. His control was just a little bit worse in the sixth.”
Boggs spent a lot of time talking about the weather days before this matchup. The five-time batting champion lofted a fly into the wind current in left-center. It just lipped over the wall to give the Red Sox the lead.
Stewart, who last allowed a home run Aug. 30 vs. Kansas City, went 52 2/3 innings without surrendering a long ball.
‘’He just got a pitch he could drive,” said Stewart. “It was a fastball that he got all of.”
Stewart, now 5-0 against the Red Sox this season, said of his performance, “The bottom line is I felt great. I had good command of my pitches. I pitched good enough to win.”