BOSTON — It was new and fresh and wonderful for about four pitches. Then Wally Joyner stroked one to right field, a double, and one inning later, he hit another one to left, knocking in a California run, and suddenly these playoffs became all too familiar for Red Sox fans, who figure heartbreak comes exclusively in their size, anyhow.
“Sammy Stewart warming up in the bullpen” a voice announced, 37 minutes into Game 1.
What? Huh? Whoa! What was Stewart doing up? What was anyone doing up in the second inning? Wasn’t Roger Clemens pitching for the Sox? Rocket Roger? Shoo-in for the Cy Young award? Cause of all the heart palpitations lately in this hub city? That Roger? 24-4?
Wasn’t this to be the gimme game, the one the visitors concede, the one that gives the Red Sox the 1-0 playoff lead they earned by having the best record in the American League? Wasn’t it?
It was. But it wasn’t. And by the eighth inning, Clemens was taking that longest of walks — to the showers, with the game still in progress — and his team trailed, 6-1. The packed house at Fenway rose and clapped their mittens together, but it was the applause of commiseration, not celebration. The sure thing was lost. Boston would drop the gimme.
Kid Whiz went fizz. Angels dodge Rocket Roger
In the subdued Red Sox clubhouse after the game — final score 8-1, Angels
— reporters peppered Clemens with questions about his pitching elbow, which was hit by a line drive a week ago, which forced him to leave the game immediately.
“It felt OK,” he said. “I felt strong. I felt I made some good pitches. They were just the better team tonight.”
You can believe that, or you can believe the box score, which is no doubt causing its share of heartburn over Boston breakfasts this morning. To understand what is going through the minds of Red Sox fans now, realize that in the days before this series began, the talk was all Roger. On the streets it was Roger. Along Yawkey Way, it was Roger. In the cabs and the pubs and the Hancock Building, it was Roger. He was compared in the Boston papers to Larry Bird — that quietly confident, that reliable, that much of a sure thing.
“They won’t beat Roger in Fenway,” people said. This was a gimme.
Unfortunately, for Boston fans, it was Clemens who did the giving. Ten hits, seven earned runs. Elbow or no elbow, this was not his vintage pitching. He was walking people. Walking people? Since when does he walk people? Since when does he give up hits to Gary Pettis, the ninth batter, who was 0-for-9 against him before Tuesday night?
Clemens threw 143 pitches before leaving — a game and a half for him when he’s sharp. He threw 45 pitches in the second inning alone. The game would be out of reach by the third. The Boston bats were far too silent, and, like a slick nightclub singer who suddenly discovers his fly unzipped, the Red Sox feel embarrassingly mortal this morning.
Remember that the home team can’t give up a hit around here without someone thinking “here we go again.” Take your pick of Boston near-misses: 1978, 1975, 1967. Great teams. All fell just short. Don’t think the fans overlooked the fact that California’s first five runs Tuesday all came with two outs.
Ernest Hemingway, with his sense of the tragic, might have felt right at home in Fenway’s bleachers. Here in Boston, the glum also rises. Angels took the gimme
And what of the Angels? And Mike Witt, who had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning? And Brian Downing, who drove in four runs with two hits? Credit them with a stunning victory given the conditions, and the atmosphere, and the pre-series buildup.
Joyner, a 24-year-old rookie, two months older than Clemens, got the series’ first hit and its second RBI. “My rookie season ended last Sunday,” he
said afterward. Oooh.
So the Angels jump ahead. They win the game they were supposed to lose. In certain ways, it could make the series more interesting. No gimmes. Earn the victories. But it will take all the belief Red Sox fans can muster to come back to the park this afternoon confident that things will work out fine.
When his post-game interview session broke up, Boston manager John McNamara
made sure to say, “Gentlemen, see you tomorrow.”
It was a gentle reminder. Baseball is about coming right back. That is true.
But the inertia that swept the Red Sox into the post-season has dropped them like a school bus at the corner. They’ll have to hoof it the rest of the way.
Kid Whiz goes fizz. The Sox are on their own now. And destiny already leads by a step.