Matt Clement signed today with the St. Louis Cardinals, ending a rocky relationship with the Red Sox and their fans.
Clement, known by some (or just by me) as the "Boston Carl Pavano" was met with choruses of boos when last he pitched in 2006, and is best known for taking one of the worst playoff beatings by any Sox starter in Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS. He missed all of 2007 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum and torn expectations.
The bar was clearly set high for Clement — the free agent the Sox acquired to replace the departing Pedro Martinez, only the most dominant pitcher ever to wear a Boston uniform. In the previous three seasons, he seemed to have turned a corner, posting a losing record (35-36), but with a 3.80 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and a 2.4 K/BB ratio.
Clement’s opening in Boston was amazing — moreso when one considers we’ve seen much better pitchers struggle with a transition to the AL East. Clement finished June 2005 at 9-1 with a 3.33 ERA, and ultimately was selected to an All-Star team for the first time.
Although it’s easy to look at Clement’s pre/post July 26 splits and blame the Carl Crawford line drive that smashed into Clement’s head (10-3, 4.30 before; 3-3, 5.10 after), the truth is more complicated. Clement had allowed 22 earned runs in the 23 innings and four starts entering that July 26 game, and in the seven immediately afterward, Clement threw six quality starts, with a 3.43 ERA in nearly 45 innings. However, in his last four appearances, including the playoffs, Clement threw one quality start, while being shelled for seven runs (1.1 innings), four runs (5 innings) and eight runs (3.1 innings in the ALDS) in the other three.
2006 wasn’t any better. Clement lasted just 12 outings before being shut down, managing just four quality starts — matching the number of times he couldn’t make it out of the fifth. The boos rained down, and eventually Clement went under the knife, when doctors found a situation much worse than what had appeared on his MRI.
Likely, Clement’s shoulder injury — not the line drive — led to his pitching woes in late 2005 and 2006. His case is one of "what could have been?" In a sense, Crawford’s line drive may have indeed cost Clement the rest of his contract with the Sox — without it, perhaps the subsequent struggles would have been attributed sooner to an arm injury instead of the widely held belief that he had been psychologically affected by the beaning.
Here’s hoping Clement can get his career back on track in St. Louis. He deserves better than he got in Boston.