Roger Clemens made his first and possibly last appearance on the mound at RFK Stadium last night. And the seven-time Cy Young Award winner marked the occasion by delivering a vintage performance for his 336th victory.
Clemens toyed with the Washington Nationals all evening, mixing in changeups and sliders with an overpowering fastball that reached the mid-90s. The right-hander, who turns 43 on Aug. 4, matched a season high with 10 strikeouts while allowing just three hits and no earned runs over six innings.
The intimidating hurler raised his record to 8-4 and lowered his ERA to 1.40, best by far among major league starters. When Morgan Ensberg hit a two-run homer for the Astros in the first inning, the game essentially was over.
“I don’t know how he can pitch any better,” said Houston manager Phil Garner, who has seen Clemens give up just two earned runs in his nine road starts. “I have seen some pretty good pitchers in my time when I came up with the Oakland A’s, but I don’t think I have seen anything like this [-] just day in and day out as good a pitching as this. I know I haven’t.”
Clemens, known as an overpowering thrower early in his career, still lights up the radar gun but also has grasped the game’s subtleties.
“I just try to be consistent and aggressive in the zone,” said Clemens, who is in his 22nd season. “At my age, I don’t take anything for granted. I am pitching against guys half my age.”
Nationals manager Frank Robinson has seen enough of Clemens not to be surprised by his latest gem.
“A scouting report doesn’t tell you how the ball moves,” Robinson said. “You have to learn that by facing him.”
The lessons were painful. Preston Wilson struck out all three times he faced Clemens. Ryan Church and Brad Wilkerson each fanned twice. Clemens struck out the side in the fourth, finishing with a 94 mph laser that Brian Schneider chased high.
Recent evidence suggests Clemens is getting better with age. Last season, his first with the Astros, he was 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA.
“He locates better now,” Astros second baseman Craig Biggio said before the game. “He knows how to pitch better. That is part of the things that come with experience as you get older. You might lose a little bit. As a position player you might lose a step with your speed, but you get smarter on where to play. As a pitcher, you get smarter than when you were younger and could get away with things. He is smarter. He is just amazing to watch pitch.”
Camera flashes lit up RFK as Clemens walked to the mound in the first inning. The crowd of 38,019 came out to witness a future Hall of Famer.
Clemens blazed a 93 mph fastball toward Jamey Carroll on his first pitch. Carroll then was retired on a soft liner to second. After giving up a broken-bat bloop single to Jose Guillen with two out, Clemens struck out Church on a nasty slider.
Clemens nearly struck out the side in the second, getting Wilson and Wilkerson before Schneider grounded out on an 0-2 pitch.
By then, the tone was set. Clemens was putting on another routinely scintillating show.
The star treatment continued after the game when he was greeted by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the clubhouse. Clemens spent yesterday meeting politicians and taking his first tour of the Capitol.