Red Sox fans who fell off the bandwagon or out of their Ford Explorer can get a grip again. Roger Clemens pitched a three-hit shutout yesterday, leading the Sox to a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Clemens, who struck out 11 and walked none (for the second straight game), outdueled fellow Texas Longhorn Greg Swindell, who pitched a comparable game to Clemens’ until the sixth, when the Sox broke it open with two outs on Carlos Quintana’s two-run single to right field.
“You guys are just running out of adjectives,” said pitching coach Bill Fischer of his ace. “He’s the best pitcher ever.”
Ah, yes, this was another day for superlatives for Clemens, who every time out seems to find a new method of torturing his opponents. He’s certainly done that to Cleveland over the years; he’s 15-2 with a 1.96 ERA vs. the Indians since making his major league debut against them in 1984. He is also 68-18 after Red Sox losses. He went to three-ball counts only three times.
Now if the Red Sox can keep the highest-paid player in baseball out of prison (the grand jury in Houston is scheduled to convene in the Clemens case tomorrow), he might be on his way to surpassing feats of 1986 and last season.
“I’ll tell you,” said Greg Harris, who yesterday charted Clemens’ every pitch, “I’m not even amazed anymore. It’s like every time out he does something different to beat the opponent. Today he threw like 80 percent fastballs. He threw only about six forkballs and he was just blowing hitters away. He had to be up in the mid-90s and his control . . . his control . . . I mean, there’s nobody in the league, in baseball, who has his command of four different pitches.”
Danny Darwin, who couldn’t get out of the second inning Thursday, went back into the clubhouse to watch Clemens on TV.
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” said Darwin. “I wanted to see how he could throw the ball. There’s nobody around who can throw four quality pitches like he does.”
Clemens retired the first 14 men he faced, and there was more than a fleeting mention of a perfect game or no-hitter. The three hits off him were not especially hard ones. Brook Jacoby got the first, a two-out single up the middle in the fifth inning just out of the diving reach of Tim Naehring.
“I had to play Jacoby over in the hole a little because that’s where he normally hits it,” said Naehring. “I really didn’t have a chance for it. But with Roger pitching out there and with his control, you know when Tony Pena puts the mitt down, Roger is going to hit it. That enables you to take a running start into the hole.”
The No. 8 spot in the Indians order got the hat trick from Clemens: Felix Fermin and pinch hitter Beau Allred struck out three times between them. Albert Belle and Sandy Alomar struck out twice each. This was an almost effortless performance, as Clemens threw only 110 pitches and still amassed 11 strikeouts en route to his 26th career shutout.
“They weren’t fouling off too many of his two-strike fastballs,” said manager Joe Morgan.
Clemens said the cool weather helped “keep my legs under me.” He said he featured his fastball “around the edges” but he also praised his teammates for being “focused.”
The Sox were “held” to nine hits, but there were good signs.
“We got some key hits in key situations,” said Tom Brunansky, who went 2 for 3, including an eighth-inning single that scored Ellis Burks (double). ‘’We were hitting the ball to the opposite field, just trying to make contact and hit it where it was pitched. I think we’ve been trying too hard with hitting for power.”
The Sox scored their first run in the third inning, courtesy of the Governor, Jerry Browne. Pena reached when first baseman Jacoby made an error on his grounder, and Naehring, who extended his hitting streak to four, hit a sharp single to center field. With Wade Boggs (0 of 4, snapping a four-game streak) at the plate, there was no sacrifice on. Boggs hit a perfect double- play ball to shortstop Fermin, but Browne, with little pressure from the incoming Naehring, bounced the relay to first base, scoring Pena.
In the sixth, Jack Clark singled to left off Swindell, and with two outs, Brunansky lined a ground-rule double down the left-field line. That brought up Quintana, who smacked his second hit of the game through a drawn-in infield to right field.
“I was just trying to hit it to the opposite field in that situation,” explained Quintana. “He was pitching me away and I go with the pitch. That’s the best way.”