09/30/2002 6:12 pm ET
Clemens, Angels have some history
NEW YORK -- This is supposed to be such a slam-dunk cinch. A quick beginning to the Angels' end.
Roger Clemens, who is on his way to the Hall of Fame, bearing down on a bunch of postseason trespassers only on their way out of town.
And Game 1 of the Division Series may indeed adhere to that simple plot. Yet there are some jolting aspects to Tuesday night's matchup, giving the Yankees pause and the Angels hope.
Clemens is 19-2 the last two seasons at Yankee Stadium, but he has never beaten the Angels here.
The Angels do not strike out, neutralizing a key element of The Rocket's game.
Foremost, for you California karma worshipers, the last time the Angels ran into Clemens at the gates of postseason, they ran over him, setting themselves up nicely for a huge series upset.
OK, that was back in 1986, and it never happened. The Angels folded out of a 3-games-to-1 ALCS lead over Clemens' Red Sox. The point, however, is the inspiration that can be found in getting by Clemens.
So in starting Clemens in Game 1, is Joe Torre risking putting some wind under the Angels' wings? Because the Halos do match up well with the 40-year-old flamethrower.
As a team, the Angels struck out a measly 805 times, 116 fewer than any other MLB team.
While no longer fixated on hoarding strikeouts, Clemens candidly says blowing people away is a way to "try to apply pressure. With two strikes, I will go to a certain pitch to try to induce that."
He needs that. Clemens had 10 starts this season in which he struck out fewer than five batters, and he won only four of them, not the best percentage for a guy with an overall 13-6 record.
"I don't worry about strikeouts," Clemens said, "although there are certain situations where you need them. If they come in bunches, great. But I don't look forward to trying to strike out a lot of guys."
Against these guys, the approach wouldn't work anyway. The team K total is even more impressive when noting 246 of them belong to two men, Troy Glaus and Tim Salmon. That means, when you're facing any other part of the order, you better be on your toes.
Odd thing, these guys don't walk, either. Between them, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad drew 37 unintentional walks in 1,319 plate appearances. Two others (Bengie Molina and Adam Kennedy) had more than 500 PAs and fewer than 20 walks.
"We are very aware that these guys put the ball in play," Clemens said.
Making them field a lot of balls is a good way to try to survive the Yankees, who have been more prone to slumps with the glove than with the bat.
"I'm comfortable now," said Torre, who earlier in the season openly worried about his defense. "Just watching us play lately makes me very comfortable about the aggressiveness of our defense.
"We've been getting to balls in the outfield very quickly, which is what we need to do against these guys."
The Angels are extremely aggressive on the bases, grinding to take the extra base even on outfields with good arms. Which the Yankees do not have.
"They run hard from the first step," nodded Torre, whose respect for the opposition comes through clear.
Torre's influence on his clubhouse is thorough, so Clemens knows to expect a fight. Even though he and Game 3 starter Mike Mussina have not yet faced the Angels this season.
"But I've watched them, and we got a real nice scouting report," Clemens said. "I'll take what I know, what's in the report and try to match it up. I'll try to break them down as much as I can."
Although they have been strangers this season, there's a lot of history between Clemens and the Angels. His regular-season career record against them is 27-8, and he has devoured the biggest sticks in their lineup (Salmon .235, Glaus .211, Anderson .205)
"I've faced quite a few of their hitters in the past, but I don't care to talk about the success I've had against them," Clemens said. "It doesn't matter how I've picked them apart. I've got to go out and do it again."
Their mutual history, as noted, traces back to Clemens' very first postseason start, on that Oct. 7, 1986 Fenway Park afternoon when Mike Witt (a future Yankee) got the best of him, 8-1.
"Wow, the first one was ... quite exciting," said Clemens, asked to briefly board the time machine. "I was fairly relaxed. But the only thing I remember about it is that it went extremely fast."
Interestingly, the only thing Clemens' questioners seemed to remember about that 1986 ALCS was that he'd defeated the Angels in Game 7. Typical query: "How do you compare yourself to the guy who sent the Angels out of the playoffs?"
Before being the one who sent them out, Clemens had also been the one who invited them in. In a baseball world that often proves cyclical, something for the Yankees to sweat out.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.