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Pedro vs. Roger
A Game for the Ages

by Kristen D. Cornette


The day was May 28, 2000; the setting, Yankee Stadium. Red Sox vs. Yankees. Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. Cy Young vs. Cy Old. The teams were tied in the standings; first place awaited the victor. It wasn’t October. But it sure felt like it.

That's the best regular-season game I've ever seen. It's one for the ages. Great for baseball.

- Joe Kerrigan

The Red Sox and Yankees have been battling since 1903, the New York Highlanders’ first year, and the Boston Pilgrims’ first World Championship. Since then, the names have changed, the players have changed, oh boy how the luck has changed, but the rivalry remains, growing more intense with each passing year.

Both pitchers have won multiple Cy Young awards, spending time as the most dominant pitcher in the league. Clemens was once the ace of Boston’s staff, garnering a number of individual awards (single-game strikeout record, most Cy Youngs ever) but was never able deliver the ultimate prize to the town. He defected to Canada for a higher salary, won two more Cys, then got bored and committed the ultimate act of treachery against Red Sox Nation, signing with the hated Yankees. Martinez, nine years his junior, is the current Red Sox ace. A steal of a deal from the cash-strapped Expos, he is beloved by fans across the nation for his warm personality, his intelligence, and of course, his sheer mastery of the game. In 1999, he did what Roger never could, single-handedly lifting the club to victory in a dramatic Division Series.

That other guy In Roger’s first trip back to Fenway as an opponent, he struck out 15 batters, then mocked Sox management by gesturing derisively toward the owner’s box. Pedro is undefeated against the Yankees in his career. Last September he pitched a one-hit, 17-strikeout, complete game in New York. When the two teams matched up for the ALCS the following month, these two pitchers squared off in Game 3, and Pedro was the easy winner. He dominated the Yankees lineup while Clemens was hit hard and left in the third inning, to the absolute delight of Red Sox fans everywhere. Fenway rocked in sheer exuberance as the Red Sox won 13-1. The Yankees had the last word, winning the series 3-1, but memories of that game live on. Chants of “Where is Roger? / In the shower!” still echo outside the old yard. It was a Red Sox fan’s dream, but a dream pitcher’s duel it was not.

This was one of those games where if you wanted a sandwich, you wanted to have somebody get it for you.

- Jimy Williams

This was.

On a cool night in the Bronx, the league’s two best teams were tied for first. They had split the first two games of the series. Both teams had even had their star shortstops return from the D.L. on the same day.

With this background, and a national audience watching on ESPN, the much-hyped game began. Clemens took the mound in the top of the first, and Red Sox fans looked for any sign of weakness that would foreshadow another victory like last October’s. But he gave none. He retired the Red Sox hitters in order. When strikeout victim Trot Nixon questioned the third strike, Clemens shouted at the second-year player to shut up and sit down. Pedro came in for the bottom of the first.
That's the way it's supposed to be. Those 12-10 ballgames, you don't want to be in those.

- Roger Clemens

Derek Jeter hit a one-out single, but was quickly erased on an inning-ending double play. Carl Everett, a new Red Sox who won fans over before the season started by expressing his hatred of the Yankees, singled for Boston in the second, but he was picked off. Pedro set the Yankees down in order in the second. Through two innings, both pitchers had faced the minimum number of batters.

The Red Sox went in order in the third. In the bottom of the inning, Pedro actually walked the lead-off batter. Oh, did I mention he had the flu? He wasn’t even working at full strength. But a strikeout, a popup, and a flyout quickly erased any chance the Yankees thought they had. Jeff Frye and Trot Nixon were strikeout victims of Clemens in the fourth. Paul O’Neill and Jorge Posada whiffed against Pedro, as New York’s 3-4-5 hitters were unable to advance Jeter even one base further after his lead-off double. The Yankees managed a hit in the fifth, and the Red Sox had one in the sixth. Still no one scored, and the strikeout totals continued to mount.

Trot's triple The Red Sox had a glimmer of hope in the seventh. Trot Nixon, still angry about Clemens’ comments when he struck out in the first, hit a triple with one out, becoming the first player in the game to reach third base. But Roger struck out Brian Daubach and Nomar Garciaparra to end the threat. The Yankees went in order in the seventh. Both teams did in the eighth.

Still scoreless, the game moved to the ninth. It seemed the game would go on forever. Who would eventually crack? Sometime, something would have to give. John Valentin grounded out to start the inning. Jason Varitek followed with another groundout. Jeff Frye came to the plate. Clemens threw a pitch inside and hit Frye’s hand. The umpire said it hit the handle of the bat, and refused to allow Frye to take his base. Jeff stepped back to the batter’s box, and lined the next pitch straight up the middle. In a rare moment of baseball justice, the ball hit Clemens and bounced to the third base side. Frye was safe on an infield single. That brought Trot Nixon to the plate, still looking to prove himself after Clemens’ comment in the first. He had hit the triple in his last at-bat, but it didn’t matter, since he was stranded at third. He took a few pitches. Ball one. Strike one called. Ball two. And then... Nixon launched a shot high and deep to right-center field. It seemed too good to be true, but it was true! The ball landed several rows back, and the group of Red Sox fans in the bleachers went wild. Frye and Nixon trotted across the plate, and the game was scoreless no longer. The tie was finally broken, but the game was not yet over. Brian Daubach quickly grounded out to retire the side, but the Yankees still had one more chance to bat.

Pedro Pedro came to the mound for the bottom of the ninth, needing only three outs to protect the two-run lead. The top of the order was due up for New York. Boston closer Derek Lowe was warming in the pen, just in case. Pedro threw two strikes past Chuck Knoblauch, then threw a pitch inside that hit him. The Yankees had their lead man aboard. Derek Jeter was up next. He already had two hits in the game, and after swinging and missing for strike one, he lined the next pitch to right field for a base hit. Knoblauch went to second. Paul O’Neill came to the plate. Pedro’s fastball was clocked at 97 mph, and O’Neill struck out on four pitches. One out, but still runners at first and second, and the Yankees’ leading RBI-man Bernie Williams coming to bat. On the second pitch of the at-bat, he sent a drive deep to right field. Time froze. In slow motion, Nixon ran back toward the fence, but the ball kept travelling its menacing arc. Finally, he made the catch on the warning track, but Knoblauch advanced to third. Now there were two outs, but runners at the corners. Jeter stole second. Pedro got two quick strikes on Jorge Posada, then came too far inside and hit him. The bases were loaded. Tino Martinez stepped up. He swung at strike one, and then bounced a slow grounder to second base. Jeff Frye fielded it cleanly, but, seeing first baseman Mike Stanley stumble on his way to the bag, he double-clutched before finally throwing to first, just as Tino reached the base. Everyone held their breath, awaiting the umpire’s call.

I turned to some of my teammates and asked them, 'Is this what it feels like to play in a playoff game?'

- Jeff Frye

Out!

The game was over. The Red Sox had won! Pedro doubled over in relief for a moment to catch his breath, before high-fiving his teammates and walking triumphantly off the field.

It wasn’t October. But it sure felt like it.



Read about more Yankee blunders

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