This article appeared in the May 12, 1986 issue of The Sporting News.
A rocket record
By Joe Giuliotti
Eight months after undergoing shoulder surgery, Roger Clemens, the 23-year-old Boston Red Sox right-hander, climbed the record books on April 29 by knocking out 20 batters in a 3-1 win. against the Seattle Mariners.
Clemens’ fastball shot through Fenway Park night like a bullet, clocking in at speeds of 96 to 98 miles per hour, and his breaking ball was sharp as he became the king of baseball hitting in nine innings.
In Major League Baseball’s 111th season, a pitcher finally arrived, able to fan 20 batters in nine innings. Clemens knocked out Nolan Ryan (Angels, 1974), Tom Seaver (Mets, 1970), Steve Carlton (Cardinals, 1969) and Charles Sweeney (Providence, 1884), all of whom had stoked 19. Tom Cheney of the Washington Senators had 21 strikeouts at bat in a 1962 game, but pitched 16 innings.
On August 30, Clemens was in the operating room at Hughston Sports Medicine Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, while Dr. James Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery to remove a small piece of cartilage from his right shoulder. by Clemens. The pitcher entered the disabled list twice in 1985, the last time on August 21 – at the end of his season.
That aching 85 shoulder has long been forgotten and the crowd of 13,414 at Fenway Park stood as Clemens, nicknamed The Rocket, swept a 97mph fastball past Phil Bradley and into the Boston catcher’s mitten. Rich Gedman for the second out. in the ninth inning, and the No. 20 strikeout. Clemens opened the ninth with his 19th strikeout, victim of Seattle shortstop Spike Owen, his former University of Texas teammate.
In almost all historical performances a pause plays a major role. For Clemens, who only pitched his 40th game in the major leagues, that stroke of luck came in the fourth inning.
Designated hitter Gorman Thomas, who would homer in the seventh for Clemens’ lone run off, threw a routine pop foul on a 2-2 count which Don Baylor settled and dropped. Baylor, normally the Boston DH, had switched positions with first baseman Bill Buckner because Buckner had an elbow injury. Two shots after Baylor’s mistake, Thomas was called out on strikes.
Clemens threw 138 pitches, including 97 fast balls, and failed to walk a batter. From the fourth to the sixth inning, he tied an American League record, shared by Ryan and Minnesota reliever Ron Davis, by striking out eight in a row. He had at least one strikeout every inning and hit the side in the first, fourth and fifth.
Every hitter in Seattle’s starting order has broken down at least once, with Bradley being a casualty four times. Eight hitters were called third hitting. In the fifth inning, when Clemens hit the side, every third strike was called. Clemens had six counts of 3s and 2s in the first four innings, then no balls of three count the rest of the game.
“I’ve seen perfect Catfish Hunter and Mike Witt games and seen some great Seaver pitched games,” Red Sox manager John McNamara said. “But I’ve never seen such an impressive pitcher’s performance like this, and I don’t think you’ll do it again in baseball history.”
Clemens had no idea he was close to a record until Red Sox pitcher Al Nipper told him in the dugout as the Red Sox struck in the bottom of the eighth.
“He said, ‘Rockey, you have a shot at the all-time record. Go ahead with enthusiasm, ”said Clemens. “I was tired, but when I made the decision to play this game I said I was going to give it my all.
“The ninth round was all adrenaline rush. I was right there throwing.”
Twenty-four hours after his gem, Clemens still had no explanation. “It’s awesome. It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s spectacular and everything that goes with it, and I thank the man in heaven for what I did. He was behind me through hard work.
“Records are made to be broken and I broke one. But you never know, someone might come and get this one. Or maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to have the same one. kind of stuff and go out there and maybe get some more. “
Thanks to torrential rain in Kansas City and a day off, Clemens had six days off before facing Seattle. In addition to the 20 batters he struck out, he had two without a bullet on Owen and Jim Presley in the fourth inning, but Owen chose and Presley failed. Only Owen on his right single and Thomas, who lined up on the left in the second set, shot the ball against Clemens. Thomas’ home run was in the middle of the field and Danny Tartabull’s eighth inning single went to center right.
“I almost had tears in my eyes,” said Bill Fischer, 55-year-old Red Sox pitching coach. “It was the best game I have ever seen pitched. The second best was by Jim Bunning, when he pitched a straight game for Detroit against the Red Sox in 1958.”
Referee Vic Voltaggio said he didn’t know for most of the game that Clemens was on a record withdrawal pace. “All I knew was I was working the best pitcher’s performance I have ever seen,” said the referee. “I told the bat boy until after the seventh round.”
Gedman set an American League record for catchers with his 20 strikeouts and tied the major league mark of 20, set by the Mets’ Jerry Grote in 1970 in the game in which Seaver struck out 19 San Diego batters.
“Rocket was unmoved,” Gedman said. “What amazed me the most was that they had so many swings and weren’t even able to foul the ball. It wasn’t like he was trying to paint the corners. or whatever. He was challenging them and they weren’t. able to put a bat on the ball. “
Boston’s Dwight Evans hit a three-run homerun against Mike Moore in the bottom of the seventh to give Clemens the victory. This wiped out the 1-0 lead Thomas had provided with his home run.
“Everything you say is an understatement,” Thomas said. “Clemens was bossy. I think we should all be happy to be here. We’ll never see that again.”
Clemens broke the Red Sox’s record for 17 strikeouts, set by Bill Monbouquette in 1961, when he got Dave Henderson in the eighth inning. Clemens’ eight consecutive withdrawals erased the club’s record of six, shared by Buck O’Brien (1913) and Ray Culp (1970).
The Hall of Fame requested the glove, spikes and cap that Clemens was wearing, as well as the ball he threw in front of Bradley for the out at No.20.
“I’m in the Hall of Fame,” said the star-struck pitcher. “This is something that no one can take away from me.”