Screen Grabs from YouTube MLB Classics: Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game in 1986

Barely 13,000 fans were in attendance at Fenway Park on April 29, 1986, a breezy, chilly night (but not unbearable at 56 degrees at first pitch) in which the Red Sox hosted the Seattle Mariners.  From Baseball-Almanac.com:

That same night Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, in the early stages of a march to the NBA title, were facing the Atlanta Hawks at Boston Garden in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series. The Red Sox were such an afterthought that their broadcast was moved to WPLM on the FM dial from its normal spot on WRKO-AM to make way for the Celtics.

Roger’s command was off in the early going, which wasn’t all that surprising. To that point, he had walked 10 batters in his first 24 innings of the 1986 season. Roger may have been shaking off a bit rust early on since he was also working on two extra days’ rest going into the start thanks to a rainout in Kansas City. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that Boston had begun the season with a four-man rotation and only incorporated the typical five-starter staff in late April as the schedule became more demanding.

Legendary broadcasters Ned Martin and Bob Montgomery had the call on TV for a small, subscriber-only cable channel called New England Sports Network (NESN).

00:31: Seattle’s starting lineup.

Seattle starting lineup

00:55: NESN’s first set of stats show that Clemens had a pretty good April leading up to this start against the Mariners.

Clemens' April 1986 stats

01:00: …even though his expanded line (taking out things like “Wins”) wouldn’t necessarily suggest what was to come that evening.

Clemens' expanded April

3:03: Clemens’ former teammate at the University of Texas, Spike Owen, digs in at Fenway Park for the first time during the 1986 season in a Mariner uniform. He’d be a Red Sox by the end of the summer, coming over in the Dave Henderson trade.

Spike Owen digs in

6:20: The count would run full and Owen would foul off a couple offerings before whiffing on a fastball.

(K #1)

Owen whiffing - K 1

8:08: Phil Bradley also works a 3-2 count against Roger before swinging at a fastball up and away. Ball four, perhaps. But a tough pitch to lay off at that speed after Clemens set him up perfectly with a breaking ball the pitch before.

(K #2)

K2 - Phil Bradley

10:02: George Steinbrenner favorite Ken Phelps gets Roger into his third straight full count of the game before swinging underneath this fastball. Three full counts and three swinging strikeouts after one inning for Roger.

(K #3)

K3 - Phelps

10:47: Boston’s starting lineup for Seattle’s Mike Moore, a No. 1 draft pick.

Boston's lineup

13:00: Leadoff hitter Dwight Evans chases a nasty slider off the plate from Moore.

Evans Ks in 1st

13:09: Dewey isn’t in the mood to go down quietly though. He argues with the ump that he caught a piece for a foul tip into the dirt, but replays clearly show the catcher caught it cleanly. A ball-shaped divot near home plate isn’t enough to win the argument, unfortunately. Boston would go down in order.

Dewey argues

17:50: After a Gorman Thomas lineout to start the top of the 2nd, Clemens gets Jim Presley to chase a curveball.

(K #4)

K4 - Pressley

18:45: Ivan Calderon quickly gets down two strikes and the electricity in Fenway becomes audible. Clemens delivers with his first called strikeout of the game on a pitch that may have been a bit off the plate. (Note – The angle here is at least a little deceptive as the center-field camera at Fenway wasn’t as truly aligned with the mound and plate in those days.)

(K#5)

K5 - Calderon

30:00: After the Red Sox fail to score in the bottom of the 2nd, Roger starts the 3rd by inducing Danny Tartabull to hit a ground out to second on a full count, drawing an air of disappointment from the crowd looking for another strikeout. He gets back on track quickly by dropping this backdoor fastball on Dave Henderson for a called third strike.

(K#6)

K6 - Henderson

31:54: Steve Yeager manages to put a ball in play as well, flying out to center fielder and current NESN employee, Steve Lyons. Nine up, nine down and six strikeouts for Clemens.

Lyons in CF catch

41:39: The Sox go down quietly in the bottom of the 3rd. Martin describes the pitcher’s duel as a “silent movie” so far. But it gets a little noisier when Owen singles to right field to start the Seattle 4th. Owen gives Clemens a little smirk as the perfect game goes by the boards.

Spike Owen base hit

45:05: Owen’s presence at first is a factor as Roger checks on him at least five times and even tries a 2-2 pitchout to see if they can catch him going to second.

Owen on first

45:07: Ultimately, Roger is still able to make his pitch to Bradley for his seventh strikeout, the sixth swinging punchout.

(K#7)

K7 - Bradley

48:42: A nasty outside slider makes Phelps look silly as Clemens tallies his eighth strikeout. Monty remarks, “Roger’s gone to the snowman.”

(K#8)

K8 - Phelps

51:47: Gorman Thomas hit one on a line his first time up, but falls behind 0-2, works it back to full, then hits a fly ball to Don Baylor in foul territory and he obviously just catches it eas….

Baylor catch in foul territory

52:05: Oops. No non-strikeout end to the inning after all…Baylor drops the ball. Martin and Montgomery both talk about how he’s publicly admitted he hates making that play ranging to his left into foul ground.

Baylor's drop

52:44: Roger takes advantage of another shot at Thomas and the slugger can’t hold up on an inside fastball. (K#9)

K9 - Thomas

1:00:21: The Red Sox’s half of the 4th ends with a hobbled Jim Rice being thrown out by a mile at second base on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out. Moore continues matching goose eggs with Roger.

Rice out at 2nd

1:02:08: On his way to a 10th strikeout, Clemens gets Presley to uncoil this awkward bid at a fastball that was at eye-level yet still too inviting after a nasty breaking ball to start the at-bat. Presley would ultimately get rung up on a backdoor fastball.

(K#10)

Presley offering

1:04:06: Roger gets ahead of Calderon quickly and again gets the call on the outside heater.

(K#11)

K11 - Calderon

1:04:18: The bleacher crew loves it…

Bleacher crew

1:05:31: Tartabull lays off a 0-2 offering that is about a foot off the plate, but Clemens fools him (and Gedman, who had initially set up away) by coming back over the plate for an inside strike three call. Roger left the mound after five with 12 of the first 15 outs being K’s, including six straight to tie the team record.

(K#12)

K12 - Tartabull

1:08:06: Rich Gedman tries to get Roger some run support by stretching a hard-hit ball down the right-field line into a double, but Calderon guns him down easily at second base.

Gedman out at 2nd

1:16:19: Clemens warms up for the 6th inning.

Clemens warms in 6th

1:18:40: Dave Henderson becomes victim No. 13 on a fastball off the outside half of the plate. Seven straight K’s, a new team record.

(K#13)

K13 - Henderson

1:20:28: Clemens gets ahead of Yeager as Monty remarks, “I don’t know about you, but every strike he throws sends cold cheels down MAH spine…” Yeager would go down looking for Clemens’ 14th as he finishes off the only Seattle batter yet to fan in the game to that point.

(K#14)

K14 - Yeager

1:21:44: Spike Owen would fly out to center to end the 6th. 14 K’s through six innings is enough to get the bullpen up cheering like gleeful fans.

Sox bullpen cheering

1:24:28: Dewey reaches on an error by Tartabull at second base to start the bottom of the 6th. But he is thrown out by a wide margin at second on a missed hit-and-run sign with Boggs at the plate. Whether it was Boggs or Evans who made the mistake is unclear.

Evans out at 2nd

1:28:25: After a Boggs walk, Buckner would finally break through for Boston with a ball that just sneaks over the head of left fielder Bradley. Second and third with one out for the Sox.

Buckner double

1:30:51: A Jim Rice grounder with the infield in keeps both runners in scoring position with two outs. Don Baylor would chase an outside breaking ball to end the threat.

Baylor chases

1:31:55: As Fenway security chases down some rogue fans running on the field before the 7th, NESN shows a shot of the Seattle lineup’s box score thus far. Roger had thrown 92 pitches (60 for strikes) to that point.

Seattle's Box score 7th

1:33:29: Clemens makes quick work of Bradley to start the 7th for his 15th strikeout, a new career high.

(K#15)

K15 - Bradley

1:36:43: Phelps chases a heater that trails ever so cruelly off the outside part of the plate for No. 16.

(K#16)

K16 - Phelps

1:38:11: As Gorman Thomas gets his neck nice and loose, down in the count 1-2…

Gorman Thomas gets neck loose

1:38:19: …The crowd rises to its feet.

Crowd rises

1:39:31: And Thomas extends on a pitch over the middle of the plate and crushes a home run to straight-away center-field.

Thomas HR1

Thomas HR2

Martin remarks “one thing like that can ruin a whole night for somebody.” Then again, if the wind were blowing in even 5 mph harder, Lyons probably catches the ball as it only barely cleared the center-field fence. Boston now trails 1-0.

1:40:11: With another chance to notch No. 17, Clemens gets Presley down 0-2 but he grounds to first base to end the inning. Watching this replay three decades later, the obvious kneejerk instinct is to hope Roger flubs the feed from Baylor. He doesn’t and Roger now has six outs left to add to his strikeout total.

Feed from Baylor

1:40:23: NESN cameras catch Roger slinging his glove into the dugout in frustration, clearly upset not only that he didn’t get Presley down on strikes but also that he’s now trailing in a game in which he has 16 K’s through seven innings.

Roger slings glove

1:48:30: After a two-out single from Lyons and a Glenn Hoffman walk, Moore begins to show some signs of fatigue. Dewey steps to the plate after a visit to the mound from the pitching coach and deposits a flat fastball over the middle of the plate over the center field wall.

Evans HR1

Boston finally gives Clemens a lead, 3-1, as the game heads to the 8th.

Evans HR2

1:51:06: Some enterprising fans have managed to string up an impromptu K wall above the center field bleachers by the time Clemens comes back out onto the mound in the top of the 8th, needing three more strikeouts to tie the major league record of 19.

The K Wall

1:51:52: Joe Sambito and Bob Stanley warm in the pen with Roger’s pitch count rising on a cold night.

Sambito and Stanley warm

1:51:57: Victim No. 17 is Calderon, who flails at a fastball that Martin notes probably could have been thrown anywhere and he was going to go after it.

(K#17)

K17 - Calderon

1:55:32: Tartabull follows with solid contact, but it falls safely in center field for a base hit. It brings up Henderson, who gets to 2-2 before missing this fastball.

(K#18)

K18 - Henderson

1:55:43: The crowd loves it. Martin: “It’s not a sellout crowd by any means, but they’re making sellout noises.”

Crowd loves it

1:55:52: A new Red Sox record.

A new Sox record

1:57:29: Seattle sends contact hitter Al Cowens to the plate to pinch hit. He lifts the final out to Lyons in center and Clemens finishes eight innings with 18 K’s.

18K through 8

2:03:37: The obligatory shot of a manager standing in the dugout with his hand down his pants. Boston would put two runners on base but ultimately be held scoreless in its half of the 8th.

Manager hands down pants

2:14:21: Roger takes the mound for the top of the 9th. This is what the CF wall looked like.

CF Wall top 9th

2:16:35: Strikeout No. 19 comes against the pesky Owen, who nearly put a ball in play down the third-base line but ultimately chases up and away like so many other Mariners hitters on this night.

(K#19)

K19 - Owen

Clemens ties record

2:17:55: With the count 2-2 on Bradley, the crowd comes to its feet. Monty remarks, “as a matter of fact, I’m gonna stand up…” Clemens paints the inside corner with a called third strike for his new major league record 20th K.

(K#20)

K20 - Bradley

Clemens sets record

2:18:21: With the crowd in extended ovation, Roger isn’t quite ready to just grab the ball and move on so he lets it sink in by cleaning his spikes.

Clemens cleans spikes

2:18:26: Roger composes himself quickly. Could he have enough left in the tank for No. 21 against Ken Phelps? Ned Martin lets out an “Oh Mercy…”

Roger composes himself

2:19:22: Determined to just put something in play, Phelps gets his bat-head out on 2-1 outside pitch and grounds to Romero at shortstop to end the game. Clemens can finally show some emotion.

Clemens shows emotion

2:20:03: The 20 Ks on the outfield wall.

20Ks on outfield wall

2:20:50: A woman comes down to hug Clemens as he heads off the field. Efforts to confirm who that woman is were still ongoing at the time this was posted.

Clemens hugs

Final score
And it was pretty much definitely smooth sailing from there on out for The Rocket in Boston. A Hall of Fame career devoid of any complication, controversy and dissent? He is still to this day tied with Cy Young for the most wins in team history. He’d even strike out 20 batters again in 1996, his last year on the team – after which time he rode off into the deep red of the Texas twilight.

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