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Roger Clemens’ best performance as a Yankee

On Friday, we released A Brief History podcast about Roger Clemens’ pinstripes saga — starting with the Yankees acquiring The Rocket before the ’99 season, to his notable playoff moments, ups-and-downs with the fans, and departure-from and return-to the team. I encourage you to give the 30-minute episode a listen because I learned a few things about Roger’s Yankees legacy in researching the topic.

Up-and-down 1999

After the ’99 championship Roger said “I finally know what it means to be a Yankee.” Yes, he had the proverbial “monkey off his back” with that World Series win, but 1999 was largely mediocre for The Rocket.

That season he arrived in New York coming off back-to-back Cy Young seasons in Toronto where he was 2.2X and 1.7X better than the league average pitcher (measuring by ERA+). For the Yanks he posted a 102 ERA+ in ’99, essentially league average. In the playoffs, which is the only reason he wanted to be traded to the Yankees, he pitched well in the ALDS but then got annihilated in one of the the biggest match-ups in history — ALCS Game 3, Yankees @ Red Sox, Pedro vs Clemens. Roger got pulled in the 3rd inning and the Yankees lost 13-1. He rebounded in Game 4 of the World Series against Atlanta, but the Yankees already had a 3-0 series lead.

The next season the real Roger Clemens returned.

New millennium, old Rocket

Clemens’ 3.70 ERA was the second best in the American League in 2000. It was hilariously almost a full 2-runs higher than Pedro’s 1.74 ERA. Regardless, Roger looked more comfortable in pinstripes than he had the previous year and he entered October as the team’s ace. There was just one problem: Rocket got demolished in 2 ALDS starts vs Oakland and the Yankees had to squeak by the A’s in 5 games. Then Clemens became unhittable.

With the Yankees leading 2-1 in the series, Clemens took the mound in Seattle for Game 4. He ended up pitching his best game in pinstripes — a complete game shutout, 1-hitter with 15 strikeouts.

Next up was the World Series vs the Mets. The Yankees stole Game 1 in extra innings and Game 2 was more than just Yankees vs Mets — it was Clemens vs Piazza for the first time since Roger hit Piazza in the head that summer.

Somehow Clemens composed himself after the bat incident and threw 8 shutout innings. Combined, he pitched 17 scoreless innings of 3-hit baseball in the ALCS and World Series to help the Yankees capture their 26th championship.

By Game Score, a nerd stat created by Bill James to judge a starting pitcher’s effectiveness in a single game, these were the two best games Clemens ever threw in the playoffs. The Mariners start, a 98 GS, was the greatest game he ever pitched, and that includes his two 20 strikeout games in the regular season (both of those had a 97 GS). The Mets start, an 87, wasn’t too shabby either. Anything near 90 is considered “very rare” and only one pitcher in history has ever achieved a 100+ game score in 9 innings (Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game). Clemens came damn close.

Finally a Yankee?

Since releasing the episode yesterday, I’ve noticed the majority of responses are skewed negatively towards Clemens. It’s what I expected. People don’t like him for his jerky attitude, arrogance, steroid use, pre-Yankee days, and much more. I’m not denying any of that. I’m just saying that in my book, Clemens is a Yankee, if anything for these two starts in the 2000 playoffs.