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Gunslingers' Showdown at the Fenway Corral

Martinez vs. Clemens is the featured matchup as Red Sox and Yankees, tied, 1-1, face off today.

October 11, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — In the Red Sox clubhouse, plopped atop the big-screen television, rests an oversized red cowboy hat. The lockers are adorned with "Cowboy Up" stickers. The players wear "Cowboy Up" T-shirts, and so do the fans. Two goofy words, one unlikely motto, three victories from the World Series.

However, for the urban cowboys of New England, for the long-suffering partisans and their heroes in red, never will that phrase be more appropriate than today.

In red, Pedro Martinez. In blue, Roger Clemens. Take six steps, turn and face each other and come out shooting, boys.

This is Game 3 of the American League championship series, with Martinez and the Red Sox tied with Clemens and the Yankees. It is not a one-on-one grudge match, but even the players are hyping the event.

"This is the ultimate matchup," Boston first baseman Kevin Millar said, "that any fan would want to see, especially in this rivalry, with Clemens being an ex-Red Sox and Pedro being the best pitcher in the world."

Said Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter: "Pedro is arguably the best pitcher in the league; Roger is arguably the best pitcher of all time."

The series will continue Sunday and Monday, with mortals pitching.

Martinez and Clemens have met before, most notably in a 1999 league championship series game in which Clemens was knocked out after two innings and the Red Sox won, 13-1. No classic is guaranteed.

Martinez and Clemens could meet again, in a potential Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.

But the subplots here -- that is, if the game itself is not a subplot -- are delicious. Clemens won three Cy Young awards in Boston, before then-general manager Dan Duquette shooed him into free agency in 1996, proclaiming that Clemens was in the "twilight" of his career at 34.

Clemens won two more Cy Young awards for the Toronto Blue Jays, then won one more -- and two World Series championship rings -- for the Yankees, hated rivals of the Red Sox. As Yankee fans love to taunt, the Red Sox have not won the World Series since 1918.

In his last start, Clemens, 41, became the oldest pitcher to win a postseason game. He plans to retire after the season, so every start could be his last.

On Aug. 31, in his final regular-season start at Fenway Park, he won, and the fans rewarded him with an ovation.

"He's not going to get that [today]," Jeter said.

Boston catcher Jason Varitek agreed, saying, "Every ball Roger throws will be booed."

This is a game in which players feel privileged to play. They wish you were here, really.

"Watching it on TV just doesn't do it justice," Boston pitcher John Burkett said. "Fenway Park is a treat in itself. This series will bring out the best in the fans, and I expect this to be even more intense -- not to mention, they're probably paying a fair price to get in."

Indeed, EBay listings on Friday included bids for two box-seat tickets for $1,755, two bleacher seats for $860 and two obstructed-view seats for $800. Martinez has not spoken with the media in months and did not Friday.

Clemens did, graciously and a bit reflectively. As a University of Texas alumnus, he pointed out, "There's two big games on Saturday," since his beloved Longhorns play Oklahoma.

He bemoaned what he suggested was a self-absorbed tendency among younger players.

"There's a lot of guys that miss a lot in this game because they sleep in, do their thing and miss their chance to see the world for a free ticket," he said. "I have a hard time getting guys to go see the Pentagon, to go to D.C. to see the Oval Office."

He dismissed as "comical" reporters equating his pitching inside with headhunting, noting that hitters now wear virtual body armor to protect themselves from inside pitches.

"Some of these guys are wearing stuff now that they'd feel safe in Iraq," he said.

However, he did not contribute to the hype. The game, he said, is not about him and Martinez.

"We are not," he said, "in a boxing ring."

*

Baseball Playoffs

Best-of-seven-series

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Best-of-seven series tied, 1-1

GAME 1: Boston 5, at New York 2

GAME 2: at New York 6, Boston 2

GAME 3: Today at Boston, 1:15 p.m.

GAME 4: Sun. at Boston, 5 p.m.

GAME 5: Mon. at Boston, 5:15 p.m.

GAME 6: Wed. at New York, 1:15 p.m.*

GAME 7: Thurs. at New York, 5:15 p.m.*

NOTE: All times Pacific; * if necessary

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