09/17/07 1:10 AM ET
Matchup mirrors Classic pitchers' duel
In rematch, Clemens shows grit as Schilling displays efficiency
Roger Clemens vs. Curt Schilling, six years later -- Clemens once again a Yankee, Schilling a member of the Red Sox. This time it was on a September Sunday night at Fenway Park.
OK, both of these pitchers are a little easier on the radar gun than they were in 2001. But for most of the evening, they were just as hard on the hitters.
It was good to see, in both directions. This did not look like two men, a combined 85-plus years of age, trying to squeeze a few more innings out of careers no longer in ascendance. This looked like two mound maestros, two masters of the craft, two elder statesmen of baseball's most elemental act, simultaneously turning back the clock and sending a lot of unfulfilled hitters back to the dugout.
Two things were different than in 2001. One was that this evening ended happily for the Yankees. And the other was that one of these gentlemen was involved in the decision. Schilling took the loss here after either age or Derek Jeter, or both, caught up with him in the eighth inning.
It was a 4-3 New York victory on Sunday night, with Jeter's three-run home run making all the difference.
Clemens had a line in this game that was, in terms of game ERA, actually a slight improvement on his work in the 2001 World Series finale. In that game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Clemens pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up one earned run on seven hits, with one walk and 10 strikeouts. This time, he went six innings, giving up one unearned run on two hits, with three walks and four strikeouts.
Schilling went 7 1/3 innings in the 2001 matchup, giving up two earned runs on six hits, with no walks and nine strikeouts. Apart from the strikeouts, his work for seven innings here was very similar. Randy Johnson was the winning pitcher in the 3-2 game that ended the 2001 epic, and Mariano Rivera was the losing pitcher. Rivera got the save on Sunday night, but not before a bases-loaded situation and a popup to shortstop by David Ortiz brought this particular thriller to a close.
The work of Clemens on Sunday night was, just as Yankees manager Joe Torre suggested, "great -- absolutely great." It was particularly striking in light of the fact that right elbow problems had kept Clemens from pitching since Sept. 3.
"I was curious to see how my body would react in a game situation," said Clemens.
His body did not seem to react like that of a 45-year-old man with a bad elbow. Clemens said that "for the most part," his arm was fine, although he added: "I still have some work to do with it."
Clemens always believes that he still has work to do, which may partly explain why he has 354 career victories.
At one point in the third and fourth innings, he struck out four Red Sox in a row, and one recalled his recent refrain, that he was "asking my body to do things that I did when I was 25." Apparently, the response of Clemens' body to this notion was something along the lines of, "OK, Rocket."
Clemens was working so well that there was a sense of mild surprise, and maybe dismay, that he did not come out for the seventh inning. He was thinking along the same general lines.
"I asked to go back out for the seventh, and they said, 'That's enough,'" Clemens reported.
Schilling, who was working with an efficiency that characterized his best form, had a much lower pitch count than Clemens, so he could go back out for the seventh, and the eighth. But that's when his evening found an abrupt ending.
"I just hung a split," Schilling said of the pitch to Jeter. "I missed horribly in the most critical situation in the game. That's not something I can do anymore. I can't overthrow the ball late in the game. I can't overthrow my fastball, much less my breaking stuff, in big spots. This is an incredibly painful way to have to learn a lesson that you've already learned."
This was, rooting interest aside, a terrific game, made even more special by the performance of these two pitchers, hooking up for the first time in six years, and working for the most part as though they were in their seasons of prime production.
"For me," Clemens said, "it's a privilege to have the opportunity to still be working."
The privilege also rests with the rest of us, who are fortunate enough to see pitchers of this caliber still working at such a high level after so much time and success. Clemens, if he can still pitch like this, may want to go for a fifth annual not-quite retirement next year.
This game wasn't Game 7 of a World Series, but there was still much at stake. A loss here would have dropped the Yankees to 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East and would have virtually ended the division race. As it is, Boston's lead does not seem particularly precarious. The Red Sox got the minimum requirement for this series by winning on Saturday and avoiding a sweep. But by winning two of three here, the Yankees held a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL Wild Card race.
Boston should still break New York's string of nine straight division titles. But the Wild Card/consolation prize remains within the Yankees' grasp.
"We still have our fate in our hands," Torre said. "We can't expect any help from anybody else. We just have to win enough games to get to October."
It appears that for both clubs, their oldest right-handed pitchers, at this very late regular-season date, are still up to the task of helping them get from here to October.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.