There was a perfectly good plan for Game 4 Wednesday. It was supposed to be Roger Clemens' valedictory, the last start of his brilliant career. The immortal Rocket, still going strong at 41 but having announced that this was it, would bring his fastball, his splitter, his bellicose persona and his 310 wins out to the mound for the final time.
There he would turn in one more dominant outing and leave triumphant, his Yankees one win away from their 27th World Series title. Or he would falter, scuffle, come out early, the way he had in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, and our last image of him would be one of failure. Glory or pathos. Either would work.
And they both happened. Clemens was knocked around, almost out, but recovered and pitched a solid ballgame. There was no pathos, but no glory either. Clemens left after one rough inning and six sharp ones on the hook for the loss. When he came out he got a standing ovation not just from the fans but from the Marlins. Pudge Rodriguez applauded him. Jack McKeon tipped his cap. The Marlins could afford to be generous. They were leading 3-1, two innings away from tying the Series and turning it into a best of three.
The Marlins did even the Series, but by the time they got the win, 4-3 on an improbable 12th-inning home run by Alex Gonzalez, Clemens had been gone long enough he appeared to have showered, and there was a whole new cast. There was Ruben Sierra, who tied the game in the ninth for the Yankees with a two-out, two-strike pinch triple into the right-field corner off of Ugueth Urbina. There were Jose Contreras of the Yanks and Braden Looper of the Marlins turning in great relief outings. There was Jeff Weaver, unused since Sept. 24, pitching in extra innings for New York and, after a 1-2-3 11th, giving up a leadoff, walk-off homer to Gonzalez, who had walked up to the plate 1-for-13 in the World Series with six strikeouts.
Long forgotten was Clemens' rotten first. We're told endlessly by any former manager with access to a microphone that getting Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, the speedy hitters at the top of the order, is the key to stopping the Marlins. So Clemens got those two quickly on groundouts -- and then fell apart. Rodriguez singled after Clemens buzzed him with a high hard one. Clemens threw a pitch up and in to Miguel Cabrera too, and Cabrera responded by hitting one over the right-field wall for 2-0. Then Jeff Conine singled, and Clemens fell behind 2-and-0 to Mike Lowell.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre paid a visit to the mound. Clemens looked shaky, but even at his age he's capable of turning around a bad inning. Lowell singled Conine to third. Four straight hits. Then Derrek Lee grounded one through the hole at short. Five hits in a row, and a 3-0 Marlins lead. Now the light-hitting Gonzalez came up and Clemens fell behind 3-and-0. If Clemens were a fighter, the referee would have been a step away and ready to jump in, but Clemens got Gonzalez to fly out to right to end the inning and keep himself in the game, barely.
His line over the next six innings: no runs, three hits, five strikeouts, no walks. His last pitch was a nasty inside fastball to get Castillo looking, ending a nine-pitch at-bat. He slapped the back of his glove with his right hand as he walked off the mount for the last time to a growing ovation. It was a great moment, fans and opponents cheering for the future Hall of Famer and he acknowledging them by tipping his cap, tapping his chest and pointing. He'd retired the last eight men he'd faced and fittingly struck out the last one.
On the other hand Roger Clemens had just been outpitched for seven innings by Carl Pavano, a 27-year-old journeyman right-hander who could win 20 games every year until he's 40 and still have fewer victories than Clemens. And Pavano threw another 1-2-3 inning too. Clemens was good, just not spectacularly so. He was roughed up, but not pathetically so. Wednesday night was just another World Series game, which means it didn't go according to plan, and the story wasn't the great old horse's last run, but instead a struggling shortstop who poked one down the line and over the fence.
Game 5 Thursday figures to be David Wells' last start in a Yankees uniform. Interesting angle, but keep your eye on the backup catchers and utility infielders.
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The Zelasko watch [PERMALINK]
I watch the Fox World Series pregame show so you don't have to. And also because I'm fascinated by the cliché-addled prose of studio host Jeanne Zelasko. Here's a transcription of her opening words before Game 4:
"Tonight on Fox: Both sides have weathered the storm. Now brace for something bigger -- history! One more moment on the mound before Cooperstown. The Rocket makes his final liftoff tonight. Roger's ride ends where it began some 20 years ago with so much more at stake: The Yankees are halfway to a World Series title. Of course, if you think the Marlins are down for the count, you don't know Jack ... McKeon's club."
As predicted here Wednesday, Zelasko made clichéd reference to the rain that delayed Game 3.
What will she say before Game 5 Thursday? How about: "Last night the Rocket added another page to his legacy but he was gone by the time Alex Gonzalez swung -- and so was the ball. Tonight on Fox, it's back to the drawing board, all even, two games apiece. But the Yankees aren't worried. They know all's well that ends Wells [shot of Game 5 starter David Wells]. And the Marlins will ante up with Brad Penny. Saturday we go back to the Bronx and the House That Ruth Built, but tonight, the heat is on in South Florida."
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