21-6, 1.93/1.082/.231, 228.1 IP, 209 K, 54 BB, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 4 SHO, 213 ERA+
Postseason: 2 G, 0-1, 7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K
All-Star, MVP – 3, CYA – 2
One need look no further than 1990 to understand Red Sox’ fans stormy relationship with Rocket Roger. On the one hand, his regular season was amazing – by many measures his best in a Boston uniform. He posted his lowest ERA, highest ERA+ (despite the lowest league ERA in his career), fewest walks and far and away the fewest runs. In his final 12 starts of the season, Clemens posted a 0.97 ERA with four shutouts, seven games with zero runs allowed and a 9-2 record. Only Bob Welch’s 27-win season kept Clemens from his third Cy Young in five seasons.
The season marked the return of Clemens to dominance. After posting steadily declining numbers since his breakout 1986 campaign, Clemens opened a monster three-season peak with this, his highest ERA+ season until 1997. After 1992, no pitcher had had a better three-year peak from ages 27-29, and the only two to do it since are Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez.
But there is the other hand. And none exemplified it more than the American League Championship Series. Clemens unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at home-plate umpire Terry Cooney, threatening to “get you this winter” and getting tossed in the must-win Game 4. Later, the executive director of the league’s umpires association questioned whether Clemens – in trouble at the time and struggling with his control – was looking to leave the game.
Clemens insisted he was cursing at himself, but his version of events was contradicted by several witnesses (sound familiar?). In Game 1, Clemens had struggled through six innings – holding Oakland scoreless but forcing the bullpen to match zeroes with A’s ace Dave Stewart, who was breezing through the Red Sox lineup — and the Sox lost, 9-1.
Just like 1990 was the best of several dominant seasons Clemens would produce in Boston, the 1990 ALCS was the worst of several prominent clashes in which Clemens engaged (see the 1992 entry). With Clemens, the bad came with the good. For every shutdown season, a shaky postseason. For every dominant postseason, a thrown bat or a profane explosion. 1990 featured it all – except the dominant postseason.
Key game: Aug. 25. With the AL East pennant race heating up, first-place Boston travels to Toronto to face the second-place Blue Jays, faltering but just two games back. After splitting the first two contests, Clemens takes the mound against David Wells. The pitchers match zeroes for six innings until Dwight Evans homers in the seventh, giving Clemens the only support he’d need. He holds Toronto to five hits in outdueling Wells, who is lifted, allowing just the one run, in the eighth.