Matt Clement isn’t scheduled to start for Boston in this weekend’s huge series with the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, but the Red Sox need the All-Star right-hander to pitch them to victory in the finale of a four-game set with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
After Wednesday’s crushing 7-2 defeat to Toronto—Boston’s second straight loss—left the Red Sox one game behind the AL East-leading Yankees with four games to play, Clement will be asked to keep the defending World Series champions from falling further back, or get them even.
“This is the playoffs right now,” Boston outfielder Johnny Damon said. “It’s amazing. It’s here already before October comes.”
Clement will be shooting for his career high-tying 14th win, something he hasn’t been able to achieve in the his previous four starts.
With Curt Schilling and David Wells shelved by injuries during the first half, Clement stepped up and went 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA to make his first All-Star appearance. However, he hasn’t been nearly as effective since the break, going 3-4, including his current four-start winless streak.
Clement had lost three straight starts, allowing 16 runs over 14 innings, before tossing six scoreless innings of four-hit ball in Boston’s 4-3 win at Batlimore on Saturday. Though he did not receive the decision due to a bullpen collapse, Clement did show considerable grit in working in and out of trouble as he issued a season-high six walks.
“That was walking a tightrope,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “His stuff was really good. Thankfully, he has the ability to compete like hell. You’re not going to see too many pitchers wiggle out of that.”
Boston entered Wednesday in a dead heat with the archrival Yankees, but while New York held on for a 2-1 win at Baltimore, the Red Sox were burned for seven early runs by the Blue Jays, who have adapted well to the role of postseason spoilers.
Toronto took one game from the Yankees in the Bronx last weekend, and have taken two of three from the suddenly struggling Red Sox at Fenway in this series.
The Blue Jays have won 11 of 17 meetings from Boston this year, and have a chance to put the Red Sox into a serious bind entering the season’s final weekend.
The Red Sox remained tied with Cleveland in the AL wild-card race as the Indians suffered their third straight loss, 1-0 at home to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Boston, which won its first World Series title since 1918 last year, has finished second in the East to New York in each of the previous seven seasons.