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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

Clemens Puts Heat on Seattle

American League: He gives up one hit and strikes out 15 to give Yankees a 3-1 series edge over aggravated Mariners.

October 15, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Until Saturday, the name Roger Clemens and the term big-game pitcher went together about as well as coffee and lug nuts.

The man known as "Rocket" has been more fall guy than fall classic, and his reputation has taken a beating because of it, but for one glorious late afternoon in Safeco Field, Clemens silenced his critics, as well as Seattle's bats.

Clemens threw a one-hit shutout with an American League championship series-record 15 strikeouts to lead the New York Yankees to a 5-0 victory over the Mariners in Game 4 of the ALCS, giving New York a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The two-time defending World Series-champion Yankees, who got a three-run home run from Derek Jeter in the fifth inning and a two-run homer from David Justice in the eighth, can earn another World Series berth with a win in Game 5 today.

Though Clemens has won five Cy Young awards and is a lock for the Hall of Fame, his teams had gone 4-10 in the 14 playoff games he had started. New York had a 16-4 postseason record since acquiring Clemens in 1999 but was 1-3 in games Clemens started.

That all changed Saturday. Clemens had a no-hitter through six innings, the only Mariner baserunner coming on Alex Rodriguez's first-inning walk, but Al Martin broke it up when he led off the seventh with a liner that nicked the top of first baseman Tino Martinez's glove and carried into right field for a double.

That was about the only hard-hit ball by the Mariners all game. Seattle saved its best shots for after the game, when Manager Lou Piniella, taking offense to two Clemens fastballs that buzzed by Rodriguez's chin in the first inning, essentially accused Clemens of being a head-hunter.

Piniella also admitted that Mariner starter Paul Abbott's fastball that sailed past Yankee catcher Jorge Posada's head in the second inning was a retaliatory strike.

"If [Clemens] wants his hitters to get thrown at, that's fine with me," Piniella said. "That's exactly what will happen. That's exactly what happened tonight, and that's exactly what will happen the next time he faces our ballclub."

After Abbott's brushback pitch to Posada, television cameras caught Piniella cursing toward the Yankee dugout.

"They were looking at us like we did something wrong, and I was just letting them know we're going to protect our hitters, period," Piniella said. "We're not going to let their pitchers intimidate our guys."

Clemens has a history of intimidation tactics, as Angel fans will recall. When J.T. Snow and Garret Anderson got off to hot starts in their rookie years, both were greeted by Clemens fastballs past their heads.

"He's made a pretty good reputation for himself that way," Piniella said.

But so has Piniella. When Angel third baseman Troy Glaus was tearing up opposing pitchers early in 1999, the Mariners decked him several times during a three-game series that culminated in a bench-clearing brawl between the clubs.

And Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill, who feuded with Piniella when the two were in Cincinnati in 1990, "has had to clean his uniform off a few times when we've come in here," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said.

"I've never accused them of trying to hit O'Neill, but just about every game, he was pitched under his chin. It's part of the game. . . . This stuff has been going on in baseball for a long time."

Clemens refused to respond to Piniella's accusations, other than to say, "I was trying to work A-Rod inside." Torre said Clemens was trying to pitch aggressively.

"You have to pitch inside to be effective--he's not trying to hit anybody," Torre said. "That's just the way he pitches. Don't get me wrong, when he was pitching on the other team, he used to aggravate me, too. But you always respected the fact that he went after people."

Said Rodriguez, who struck out twice Saturday: "I have my own personal thoughts that I'm going to keep to myself."

The postgame war of words was a lot more competitive than the game, which Clemens turned into a one-sided affair with a dominating performance that Torre said reminded him of Bob Gibson in his prime.

The Mariners could not catch up with Clemens' fastballs, one of which hit 99 mph on the Safeco Field speed gun, and they chased too many split-fingered fastballs around their ankles.

After Martin's double in the seventh, Clemens struck out Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez. John Olerud walked, but with a crowd of 47,803 waving white rally towels furiously, Mike Cameron struck out looking, an out Clemens punctuated with a fist-pumping celebration in front of the mound.

"Tonight was special," said Clemens, who was starting on six days' rest. "I knew I was going to be strong. I tried to do the things I needed to do so I wouldn't overthrow, but my fastball was very much alive, and I just knew I needed to try to harness it early."

Clemens may never be known as Mr. October--he still has a losing postseason record (4-5)--but those who say he can't win the big games have a lot less ammunition with which to attack him.

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