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Clemens brilliant amid madness

Special to

Oct. 12

BOSTON -- Late Friday afternoon, Roger Clemens had finished his 90 minutes of cardio and leg work at the Gold's Gym across the street from The Green Monster. He was signing some autographs when he was told that he seemed so relaxed since he won his 300th game.

Roger Clemens
A charged up Roger Clemens leaves the the mound at Fenway for the final time.

"I'm not relaxed about tomorrow," he said. "It will be anything but relaxed. What a way to make my final appearance at Fenway."

Clemens understood the historic and theatric of Saturday's stage. Clemens, who had won more games (101) in Fenway Park than any man who ever lived, against Pedro Martinez, who had won the highest percentage of his starts in that park of any Red Sox pitcher. Cy Past vs. Cy Present, mano a mano in the setting of a Yankees-Red Sox game that seemed certain to determine the balance of power in a high-charged AL Championship Series.

Historians tried to trace back to a modern comparable postseason matchup. Kevin Brown-Randy Johnson in '98? It was still San Diego-Houston. Catfish Hunter-Tom Seaver in Games 3 and 6 of the '73 World Series? Close, but it didn't have the personal and team histories and their relationship to the setting.

But what should have been an unforgettable afternoon turned into a Quebec Junior Hockey League riot. From Pedro trying to make up for his lack of stuff by throwing near Karim Garcia's head to Manny Ramirez closing his eyes at a Clemens pitch, then charging the mound with a bat in his hand, to Don Zimmer charging Pedro and ending up in an undignified sprawl, to Pedro threatening to hit Jorge Posada in the head, to finally, Garcia and Jeff Nelson ending up fighting a member of the Boston grounds crew -- which led to charges by the Red Sox, with the expected return volleys from George Steinbrenner's PR voice Randy Levine -- history became histrionics which became an utter embarrassment.

Which, in a strange way, turned Clemens' farewell to Fenway into what may have been his reigning moment in the building in which he became famous. "Anyone who knows me knows what this meant to me," Clemens said after the game. "Oh, sure, there are some idiots who yell things at me, but they aren't the real fans. Debbie and I love this area, and every time we've been back, people have treated us very well. I left because of management, not the people of New England, people who are great fans, as great as anywhere."

Clemens heard the "Rahhhh-ger, Rahhhh-ger" chants echoing through the Back Bay as he worked the first three innings, and they did not bother him. He gave up two fluke runs in the first, when Enrique Wilson butchered a Johnny Damon one-hopper and Todd Walker scraped The Wall, both scoring on Manny Ramirez's single. Roger didn't flinch. He kept firing 93-95 mph fastballs, with more sliders than usual, and watched Garcia knock in one run, then Derek Jeter homer into the Monster Seats to tie it 2-2 through three.

Then came the fourth, and the pitch at Garcia that loosened the game's centrifugal force. Then the mindless charge by Ramirez, the ill-thought charge by Zimmer ...

"You just hate to see anything like that anytime, much less in a game like this," said Jeter. "But what's remarkable is that Roger never lost his focus. It was still a very tough game at that point, and he stayed above it."

Yankee players vilified Martinez. "Guys in their bullpen were telling our guys that they can't stand it that when he starts getting beat. He throws at guys and everyone else gets hurt," said one Yankees star. And there wasn't, as the Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti pointed out, much support for Pedro in his own clubhouse, save that he "kept us in the game."

But there were frustrations that exploded. Go back to Game 3 in 1999, when Pedro beat Roger 13-1, when Clemens had a bad back but no excuses. Pedro was king. Cy Young, should have been MVP. He could click it at 96-97 whenever he chose to do so, and even in that game, hurt and throwing 88-89, he was unhittable.

Pedro Martinez
The Yankees usually bring out the competitive instincts in Pedro.

Now, he is not unhittable. He is good, and is a brilliant artist, but both starts with Oakland were Baryshnikovs, not Alis. In his first start against the Yankees after the '99 playoffs, Martinez shut out Clemens 2-0 on May 28, 2000, when Trot Nixon homered in the ninth. Saturday was his 18th start against New York since that game, and while he had allowed more than three earned runs only twice, he had won only four of those 17 starts.

And, Saturday, his fastball was 83-90 mph. He kept throwing changeups and cutters and curveballs, and for the third straight start, his curveball rolled. Where he usually pounds Jeter in with fastballs and gets him out with fastballs and changes away, Saturday he tried curveballs, one of which was drilled to left for a single, the other went over The Wall. So having hung a pastry changeup to Hideki Matsui for a ground-rule double that put the Yankees ahead 3-2 in the top of the fourth, Pedro decided to load the bases and get to Alfonso Soriano, who has no chance. In loading the bases intentionally, Pedro decided to try to regain control of the game by pushing the intimidation button.

And it all blew up.

Martinez now faces the scourge of public scrutiny, and his legacy, not to mention his status in the town he has, as Clemens once did, owned. For the Yankees to cry that they are offended pacifists is a tad disingenuous, for Clemens is not exactly Ghandi; he has crossed that court of public opinion, be it hitting Mike Piazza, or earlier this season opening the war by drilling Kevin Millar. It can and will go away for Martinez.

As it has for Clemens. After the insanity was put on hold and Ramirez stepped back into the box, Roger threw a fastball away. Ramirez was bailing as if he were trying to go backward down the Yankee dugout steps, tapped out, inning over. The only other time he was in trouble, two on, none out in the sixth, he struck out Nomar Garciaparra and overpowered Ramirez to get an inning-ending double play.

The 4-3 win was Clemens' 102nd at Fenway, and he ran his postseason record to 5-0 since he lost that '99 game to Martinez. "There are wins that are more important because they involve winning a World Series," he said afterward. "But personally, this meant a lot."

For when it came time for Roger to say goodbye to Fenway, he beat the Red Sox, he beat Pedro, he beat the boos, he beat the nitwits who said he couldn't win a big game (his eight postseason wins are one fewer than the Red Sox have had since Bruce Hurst won Game 5 of the '86 Series). Roger, Debbie and his brother Randy stayed around Fenway for more than two hours after the game, and as they walked out, the 41-year old man knew he'd reminded those folks who once loved him that he's still The Rocket.

He likely will be throwing to Bill Hasselman in the Olympics when the Red Sox are beginning to deal with their future, but Roger's farewell was also an ugly day that raises a lot of questions about the future of the Cowboy Up team that fans so dearly love. Garciaparra has not driven in a run in the postseason. While Derek Lowe has risen, Pedro has thrown his heart up at hitters, but questioned himself on how much he will have in three or four years. Garciaparra, Martinez, Lowe, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek are all free agents at the end of next season, and the issues surrounding the remaining five years of Ramirez's $17.5 million-a-year contract are complicated.

Theo Epstein is faced with the decision of whether or not the future of this team should lie in the hands of the three superstars who constitute half the club's payroll next season -- Ramirez, Martinez and Garciaparra. Or whether or not they can reconstruct a new team with new leadership. He can see there's no right or wrong, but that there is good and bad, and what is remarkable about the cast around the three stars is that they molded a team around a trio of great players who preferred being Howard Hughes to Harry Truman.

Maybe it was just one day, and the cowboys will ante up and make this a hard, long series. But on Roger Clemens' farewell to Fenway, he may have exposed edges that will have long-term ramifications for the Red Sox.

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