This was worse than the twilight of the gods derisively predicted by general manager Dan Duquette three years ago when the Red Sox let Roger Clemens take the money and run.
This was heart-of-darkness, bottomless-pit stuff in which Clemens and the New York Yankees descended yesterday afternoon in Fenway Park, where Pedro Martinez burned as brightly as ever and Sox hitters remained as white-hot as they were last weekend against the Cleveland Indians, no one more so than Boston’s new (first?) Mr. October, John Valentin.
Just like that, any fears of a New York sweep in the American League Championship Series evaporated as the Red Sox inflicted a 13-1 loss on the Yankees, the worst in the Bombers’ long history of storied autumns.
The shock value of the defeat, in which Clemens gave up five runs and was pulled two batters into the third inning, elicited this warning from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to his team in the clubhouse, according to someone who was there: ``This can happen once, but it can’t happen again.’’
The win sliced New York’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
``We lost two games there but we still felt confident,’’ said Bret Saberhagen, who will take the mound tonight against Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte. ``We don’t feel like baseball is going to end.
``We just feel like it’s destiny, or what, but we think we can beat everybody we’re playing. Things just don’t seem to bother us.
``We haven’t felt a whole lot of pressure. We just come out to play. If it’s meant for us to win, we’ll win. If not, we don’t.’
With 12 whiffs in seven innings, Martinez, even without his best fastball, set a record for most strikeouts by a Sox pitcher in the postseason.
``I am just out there with God in front of me and my teammates,’’ Martinez said. ``I mean, I am not hiding anything. I am hurting in every pitch I throw but I manage to do it somehow and I am not going to quit doing it until I know I am not getting anybody out.’’
Tack on the 17 whiffs Martinez had in New York Sept. 10, and he has 29 strikeouts in his last 16 innings against the Yankees, who can only dread a Game 7 reprise against the Sox ace.
``He was a righthanded Warren Spahn today,’’ said Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, invoking the name of the Hall of Famer who 51 years ago was a master of changing speeds as he pitched the Boston Braves into the World Series.
``People just don’t appreciate the command he has of the baseball, the way he can manipulate the ball. He doesn’t just throw it to spots, he manipulates it. He sinks it, rises it, cuts it. He’s a magician with the ball, what can you say?’’
Valentin, meanwhile, drove in five runs with a first-inning, two-run home run off Clemens, an infield out, and two singles, giving him 17 RBIs in eight postseason games. The Sox rolled up 21 hits, 10 for extra bases, in a stunning encore to their record 23-run, 24-hit outburst against the Indians last Sunday night, the last time they were on Yawkey Way. The 21 hits set an ALCS record, and the Sox have now scored 45 runs in their last 20 innings they’ve batted at home.
``Just like Cleveland,’’ chanted a sellout crowd of 33,190, which brought its ``A’’ game every bit as much as the Sox, who also benefited from a home run and three singles by Nomar Garciaparra, two doubles and a single by Trot Nixon, and a home run and double by the Belleville Basher, Brian Daubach.
The Yankees, meanwhile, saw their record-tying 12-game postseason winning streak come to a crashing end in a loss that eclipsed their previous worst beating, a 12-1 thrashing by Atlanta in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. The Sox had lost 10 in a row in the ALCS since Game 7 of the ‘86 ALCS against Anaheim, in which Clemens was the winning pitcher.
``Well, there is no question,’’ Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ``I believe that in a short series a game turns it momentum-wise, but what we need to do is come out here and pitch the way we are capable of pitching and that normally quiets things down. That is what we rely on.
``But for sure, the Red Sox feel good about themselves tonight and we are just the opposite. But that is what makes these short series great. It just tests your insides, basically.’’
Clemens, whose value to the Yankees was supposed to be measured by his capacity to deliver in October, was driven from the premises as the Red Sox routed the Rocket and successor Hideki Irabu in an unprecedented display of Bomber-bashing. Clemens was long gone by the seventh inning, when the crowd chanted ``Where is Roger?’’ and answered with, ``In the shower.’’
While Martinez held up his end of the most anticipated pitching matchup ever on Yawkey Way, striking out at least one Yankee in each of his seven innings and allowing just two hits, Clemens had no answer for the sarcastic singsong ``Ro-ger, Ro-ger’’ that swept the greensward under cloudless blue skies and summer-like temperatures (73 degrees at game time).
Two pitches into the Sox first, Jose Offerman was aboard third on a triple lashed off the 3-foot retaining wall in the right-field corner. Five pitches later, the Sox led, 2-0, as Valentin launched a 2-and-2 pitch from Clemens into the left-field net. Doubles by Nixon and Garciaparra, sandwiched around a single by Offerman, made it 4-0 in the second, and Torre lifted Clemens for Irabu after a single by Stanley and a first-pitch strike to Daubach, whose home run off Irabu made it 6-0.
``He was in a tough spot tonight,’’ Yankees pitcher David Cone said of Clemens and the hostile reception he received. ``You certainly feel for him. He never had a chance to settle down.’’
The six runs eclipsed the number of runs allowed by the Yankees in their five previous games combined. Daubach’s home run left Irabu in the role of sacrificial pitcher, as he was left in to give up eight runs (seven earned) and 13 hits in 4 2/3 innings.
``We just went out there and swung the bats,’’ Garciaparra said. ``Everybody went out there and did it and that was just the difference right there. It wasn’t a matter of who we are facing or how his stuff is going today or from other times. It was a question of, we’ve got to get it done.’’