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In Postseason, Rocket Struggles to Get Off Pad

October 14, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

SEATTLE — Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens has won five Cy Young awards, he has amassed 260 victories and 3,504 strikeouts, and he probably will be a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame.

But for some reason, come October, Clemens goes from the Rocket to the Red Glare, his grimaces from repeated questions about why he can't win in the playoffs gaining more attention than his pitching performances.

Clemens lost Game 1 of the division series on Oct. 3 when he gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings to the Oakland Athletics, and he lost Game 4 of that series when he was rocked for six runs and six hits in five innings.

In the 14 playoff games he has started in his 16-year career, his teams are 4-10. Clemens takes a 3-5 postseason record and 4.32 earned-run average into Game 4 of the American League championship series today against Mariner right-hander Paul Abbott.

Playoff struggles are a sore subject for Clemens, who usually winces and meanders off on different tangents when the topic comes up. Seattle Manager Lou Piniella says superstars who slump in October--Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas come to mind--run into trouble when they try to exceed what they've done during the regular season.

"Sometimes they try too hard and get themselves in a little bit of a rut, put a little more pressure on themselves," Piniella said. "Because certainly, if you can do it over a 162-game schedule, year in and year out, you should be able to do it in the postseason."

Does Clemens, who went 13-8 with a 3.70 ERA during the regular season, simply try to do too much in October?

"The only time I experienced any uneasy feeling was my first couple of postseason games because I really didn't know what to expect, and I didn't know how to channel my emotions or the adrenaline and everything that comes with it," Clemens said.

"But after my first go-round [with Boston] against the Angels in 1986, I would say the rest of my starts have been pretty standard. . . . It might look like I'm trying to do too much or overthrowing, but that's only because I'm trying to max out on certain pitches."


Abbott, the Mariner right-hander who overcame two major surgeries, 11 stints on the disabled list and was released by six teams, is not the only surprise participant in the ALCS from Orange County.

Few expected utility player Charles Gipson, a former Anaheim Loara High three-sport star who was a 63rd-round draft pick of the Mariners in 1991, to make it this far, and even Gipson has to pinch himself.

"Usually I'm at home this time of year, but it's great to be here," Gipson said. "I was drafted in the 63rd round, and the next thing you know, I'm in the ALCS."

Well, it didn't exactly happen overnight. Gipson spent six full seasons in the minor leagues before reaching Seattle in 1998, and he has only 160 career big league at-bats, hitting .244.

But the reserve outfielder/infielder is one of the Mariners' fastest players, and if Rickey Henderson doesn't return in 2001, Gipson hopes to have a shot at becoming Seattle's leadoff batter. He thinks he's well-groomed for the job.

"Rickey has helped me with the mental aspects of leading off, how to work counts and how to steal bases, and I'm going to work on those things this winter," Gipson said.

"I've had the luxury of playing with Ken Griffey, who helped me with outfield routes on fly balls, and Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez, whose work ethic is outstanding."


Game 1: Seattle 2, New York 0

Game 2: New York 7, Seattle 1

Game 3: New York 8, Seattle 2

Today: New York (Clemens 13-8) at Seattle (Abbott 9-7), 4:30 p.m.

Sunday: New York at Seattle, 1 p.m.

Tuesday: Seattle at New York, 5 p.m.*

Wednesday: Seattle at New York, 5 p.m.*

TV--Ch. 4; *--if necessary

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