BOSTON — Sainthood is still not out of the question, but perfection eluded Roger Clemens a long time ago. After firing off 14 straight victories, Clemens lost a game on the night of July 2. Five days later, he lost again.
So, it can be done.
Just don't ask for the formula from the Angels, 3-2 losers to Clemens and the Boston Red Sox Saturday at Fenway Park.
The Angels threw just about everything at Clemens, and so did the weatherman. A shower, part of a daylong drizzle, delayed the opening pitch 43 minutes and muddied the mound to the point that Clemens had to pause, kneel and scrape his cleats after each hitter he faced in the last two innings.
Swinging in the rain, the Angels loaded their lineup with left-handed hitters against the right-handed Clemens, stationing Jack Howell in left field, Ruppert Jones in right field and Jerry Narron at catcher.
They also confronted Clemens with their own All-Star pitcher, Mike Witt, who fired a six-hit complete game.
They received a run-scoring double and a run-scoring single from Wally Joyner, who ended the day in possession of another team record--most runs batted in by an Angel rookie, 71.
They even tried to flimflam the umpires.
With one out and Boston's Marty Barrett on first base with a single in the sixth inning, Bill Buckner golfed Witt's ankle-high curveball over the right-field fence, just inches beyond the reach of a leaping Jones. The ball, and Jones' glove, fell into the Angel bullpen, where Donnie Moore retrieved both--mischievously placing the ball in the webbing of Jones' glove.
"It was worth a try," Moore said with a grin. "You never know. It might have worked."
All it got the Angels was a few laughs. Clemens, presented with a 3-2 lead after the home run, had the only break he needed to snap a two-game winless streak and steady the jumpy hearts of the Red Sox faithful.
Clemens had predicted as much. Tired of nervous New England talk that the phenom was floundering, Clemens said earlier this week that he'd go to the All-Star game with 15 victories.
Stuck on 14 for two weeks, Clemens will travel to Houston with a 15-2 record.
"You guys were the ones panicking when I lost two games," Clemens snapped at reporters. "Every time (Dwight) Gooden loses a game, everyone panics. Man, the guy's got great stuff. Sometimes, you're going to get beat out there. They're going to put the ball in play. There are too many great hitters in the big leagues to be that dominant."
Still, Clemens' recent showing had inspired the Angels.
"Get the right men on base and you're going to beat him," Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "You can run on him. I'm not putting the guy down; you don't get to be 15-2 by accident. But it's not exactly like facing Tom Seaver at his peak."
Witt, before facing off against his All-Star teammate, had said he was encouraged mainly by the results of Clemens' last two starts.
"I know he's been getting hit around," Witt said. "I know if I can keep it low-scoring, I have a good chance."
Witt (9-7) did his part. He served up an RBI single to Jim Rice in the fourth inning but entered the bottom of the sixth with a 2-1 lead. He gave up the leadoff single to Barrett and then got Wade Boggs to line to second baseman Bobby Grich. Grich had a shot at doubling Barrett off first but, after pumping once, made no throw.
That brought up Buckner, representing the go-ahead run. On a 1-and-2 pitch that the Angels swore was the right one, the Red Sox went ahead.
"Since Buckner was a kid, he's been able to dig out a tough pitch," Mauch lamented. "I told that to Don Sutton before the game and I wish to hell I was wrong. Buckner hit a pitch very, very few players are capable of hitting for a home run. He raked a pitch that was five or six inches off the ground.
"Buckner didn't have to remind me that he could do it. I already knew it."
Witt agreed with Mauch. "I thought it was a good pitch," Witt said. "Unfortunately, (Buckner) did, too."
Clemens, meanwhile, struck out eight, walked two and yielded five hits, only one (a single by Narron) after Joyner's RBI double in the sixth inning.
"When you have stuff like that and he gives you only one or two walks, three or four runs is about the maximum you can hope for," Grich said. "He's not unhittable, he's not unbeatable, but your work is definitely cut out for you."
Said Mauch: "We didn't capitalize when we could've scored with the right kind of outs on him. Maybe he's that good."
Mauch didn't sound convincing. He said Clemens reminds him more of Ralph Branca than Sandy Koufax. He called Clemens "a good pitcher."
But with Clemens scheduled for more starts against the rest of the American League West, Mauch refrained from further critical analysis.
"I don't want to plant anything in his mind," he said, smiling. "I want him to beat Kansas City . . . and Texas . . . and Chicago."