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ALCS GAME 4: YANKEES 5, MARINERS 0. Roger Clemens sheds his image as a big-game loser, pitching 1-hitter and striking out 15.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


SEATTLE -- Roger Clemens said he was just trying to pitch inside. Seattle manager Lou Piniella said Clemens was throwing at the Mariners. Wherever Clemens was throwing, he was all but untouchable Saturday night.

His 15-strikeout masterpiece, his six-inning flirtation with a no-hitter, his total dominance of the Mariners and obliteration of his reputation as a pitcher who can't win the big ones -- all of it has pushed the Yankees within one win of their third World Series and fourth in five years.

Clemens needed only one big hit. He got two -- home runs by Derek Jeter in the fifth inning and David Justice in the eighth, all the Yankees needed to silence Seattle 5-0 and take a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.

Piniella was livid minutes after the game, claiming Clemens intentionally threw at Alex Rodriguez twice in the second inning, the first one close enough to send the Seattle shortstop sprawling.

"If he wants his hitters to get thrown at, that's fine with me," Piniella fumed. "That's exactly what will happen. That's exactly what happened tonight and that will be exactly what happens the next time he faces our ballclub. He wants to throw at our guys, we'll throw at his guys -- period!"

Yankees manager Joe Torre discounted Piniella's brief tirade. "You have to be in to be effective. (Clemens) isn't trying to hit anybody. If he is, it surprises me. ... I think he was just trying to be aggressive. And don't get me wrong; when he was pitching (for Boston and Toronto) he used to aggravate me, too, 'cause that's the way he pitches."

Clemens, beaten by Oakland on Oct. 3 in the opener of the division series, came into this game with career post-season numbers that were mediocre at best -- a 3-5 record with a 4.32 ERA in the playoffs and World Series.

He came out of it with an ALCS strikeout record, surpassing the 14 set in 1972 by Detroit's Joe Coleman and matched in 1983 by Baltimore's Mike Boddicker. He shares the league championship series record set three years ago by teammate Orlando Hernandez, when El Duque was with the Marlins.

"I think he's probably tired of answering those questions (about his big-game ineffectiveness) just like John Elway was tired of answering questions about not winning the Super Bowl. When you look at (Clemens') career, I think we expect so much from pitchers like him. It's just tough to satisfy people."

It was as strong a performance as the ALCS has ever seen. Oakland's Vida Blue pitched a two-hit complete game against Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1974, in Game 3 of what would be an Athletics sweep. Only the Mets' Bobby J. Jones has been more dominant this post-season, pitching a complete-game one-hitter to close out their division series against the Giants.

"When he got to the fifth or sixth inning, I could visualize Bob Gibson pitching against Detroit, or anybody else for that matter, in the World Series. It was just total dominance."

By then, Clemens was gunning for the first post-season no-hitter since Don Larsen of the Yankees pitched a perfect game against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series -- the last Subway Series, by the way. The Yankees are within one win and the Mets within two of another one.

"It's really tough to beat this one for a post-season game," Torre said. "Don Larsen's perfect game was pretty damn good, but this was total dominance."

Inning by inning Clemens mowed down the Mariners before Al Martin drilled his second pitch of the seventh inning on a line into the rightfield corner. "He hit a slider," Clemens said. "Jorge (Posada, the catcher) wanted it in a little farther. It broke, but he was able to get a good piece of the bat on it."

The sellout crowd of 47,803 roared to life, waving the white rags they had been given as a promotion by one of the Mariners' sponsors. They might as well have been waving white flags of surrender.

"Once (Martin) got on second, it doesn't take much to realize that you have to focus in right there because there were some big-time hitters coming up."

And going down. Clemens struck out Rodriquez and Edgar Martinez, walked John Olerud and went from two strikes to a full count against Mike Cameron. He fired a third strike past the Seattle centerfielder, who never moved as it went by.

Paul Abbott matched Clemens' zeros until the fifth. Scott Brosius singled with two outs, Chuck Knoblauch walked, and when the first pitch to Jeter was a ball, Bryan Price, the Mariners' rookie pitching coach, trotted to the mound for a conference. Jeter drilled the next pitch over the centerfield fence.

"When I hit it, I knew I hit it well," Jeter said. "We're not a home run hitting team, but we've had a couple of big ones the last few days."

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