SERIES: AL championship series; tied 1-1.
Roger Clemens received a heartfelt standing ovation in his final regular season start at Fenway Park in August.
“I understand, and they understand, the situation now; that I’m pitching against the Red Sox,” Clemens said. “So that’s totally understandable.”
The Rocket can only hope that this playoff showdown with Martinez in Boston goes significantly better than his last one as he looks to punctuate his legacy in his final start at Fenway Park, the stadium where he built his reputation as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
In 1999, Clemens faced Martinez in Game 3 of the ALCS at Fenway and was roughed up, allowing five runs and six hits before getting pulled in the third inning of a 13-1 loss.
Red Sox fans, furious their former ace had joined the hated Yankees that season, reveled in Clemens’ struggles that day and jeered him mercilessly as he left the mound. New York, though, came into the game with a 2-0 series lead, and went on to win in five games.
Clemens isn’t likely to receive such harsh treatment this time. But he also won’t be the object of the fans’ affection like he was on Aug. 31, when he took a curtain call after coming out in the seventh inning for the cheering Fenway faithful who weren’t sure they would see him perform again before he retired after this season.
“It’s not too overwhelming and it’s not really a big concern of mine,” Clemens said of the buildup to what very well may turn out to be the final start of his brilliant 20-year career.
“I have to go out and pitch well and pitch against a good lineup and try and get guys out. But bottom line, the fans have been great to me when I worked here, and even since I’ve come back.”
While the six-time AL Cy Young Award winner will likely be booed, most Red Sox fans probably won’t mind seeing him on the mound after he struggled to shut down Boston’s high-powered offense this season.
Clemens went 2-3 with an 8.67 ERA in five starts against his former team in 2003, despite going 2-0 with a 4.26 ERA at Fenway.
While the 1999 ALCS start was pressure-packed for Clemens, this start is probably even more important. The Yankees were mostly in control of that series, but needed another clutch performance from left-hander Andy Pettitte in Game 2 on Thursday night to send the series to Boston tied at a game apiece.
Pettitte yielded two runs in 6 2-3 innings en route to a 6-2 victory Thursday night, giving the Yankees another crucial win after a Game 1 loss in this postseason.
The left-hander also came through with a victory in the second game of the division series against the Minnesota Twins, who defeated New York at Yankee Stadium in the opener. Pitching with an extra day’s rest Thursday, Pettitte struggled early with his command, but was helped out by a pair of double plays and eventually settled down.
“He really came up big when they were on the bases and made some tough pitches when he was behind in the count,” said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, whose two-run double in the seventh off Scott Sauerbeck pushed New York’s lead to four runs.
Emboldened by the impending victory, Yankee fans showed that they had already started thinking about Saturday’s dream pitching matchup. The crowd chanted “We want Pedro” during the ninth inning, and Martinez laughed in the dugout.
Martinez didn’t speak with reporters for much of this season, and continued the policy Friday, not commenting on the matchup with Clemens or anything else.
New York’s Nick Johnson hit a two-run homer off Derek Lowe in the second inning Thursday to snap a 1-for-33 skid, and the Yankees got an even more encouraging development with another overpowering relief outing by Jose Contreras.
The Cuban right-hander, who struck out the side in a scoreless ninth in Game 1, was equally dominant Thursday night. He retired all four batters he faced, getting out Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar, the heart of the Red Sox order.
The Red Sox didn’t let the Game 2 loss hurt their confidence after earning the split in New York and seizing home-field advantage. But they know the series has just begun.
“Satisfied with one win?” catcher Jason Varitek said. “One win does us nothing. We still have a long way to go.”
Boston may benefit from the return of leadoff hitter and center fielder Johnny Damon, who is expected back in the lineup after sitting out the first two games with a concussion sustained in the final game of the first round.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Yankees - AL East champions; beat Minnesota Twins 3-1, division series. Red Sox - AL wild card; beat Oakland Athletics 3-2, division series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Yankees - 2B Alfonso Soriano (.290, 38, 91, 114 runs, 35 steals, 130 Ks), SS Derek Jeter (.324, 10, 52), 1B Jason Giambi (.250, 41, 107, 129 BBs, 140 Ks), CF Bernie Williams (.263, 15, 64), C Posada (.281, 30, 101), LF Hideki Matsui (.287, 16, 106, 42 doubles), DH Johnson (.284, 14, 47, 70 BBs in 96 games), 3B Aaron Boone (.254, 6, 31, 8 steals), RF Karim Garcia (.262, 11, 35). Red Sox - CF Damon (.273, 12, 67), 2B Todd Walker (.283, 13, 85), SS Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), LF Ramirez (.325, 37, 104), DH Ortiz (.288, 31, 101), 1B Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Trot Nixon (.306, 28, 87), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85), C Varitek (.273, 25, 85).
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Clemens (17-9, 3.91 ERA). Clemens is 8-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 19 career starts against Red Sox. He is coming off an outstanding outing in his first start of the playoffs, limiting Minnesota to one run and five hits in a 3-1 victory in Game 3 of the ALDS. He walked just one while striking out six. Clemens has posted 100 of his 310 career victories at Fenway Park.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Martinez (14-4, 2.22 ERA). Boston’s ace is 9-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 24 career starts against New York. He went 1-1 with a 3.80 ERA in four games against the Yankees in 2003. Martinez beat Oakland in Game 5 of the ALDS on Monday night, pitching seven innings and allowing three runs in a 4-3 victory.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - 2B Soriano went 0-for-4 on Thursday night and is hitless in nine at-bats in the series. … RF Garcia got his first postseason start in Game 2 and was hitless in four at-bats, but made a nice running catch in the fifth inning off a line drive hit by LF Ramirez. … Manager Joe Torre improved to 21-8 in LCS play with the Yankees. … INF Enrique Wilson, who is expected to play Saturday, is batting .500 (10-for-20) lifetime against RHP Martinez. Red Sox - 2B Walker has hit .393 (11-for-28) against RHP Clemens in his career. … Although LHP Sauerbeck allowed the two-run double to C Posada, the Boston bullpen pushed its scoreless innings streak to 16 because both of those runs were charged to RHP Lowe. RHP Bronson Arroyo worked a scoreless eighth. … SS Garciaparra hit .359 with 18 HRs, 68 RBIs and a .647 slugging percentage at Fenway Park this season. He went 3-for-8 at home in the division series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 51-29 on the road in regular season, 2-0 in postseason. Red Sox - 53-28 at home in regular season, 2-0 in postseason.