One of the great pitcher’s duels of all time took place in Yankee Stadium on May 28th, 2000.

Roger Clemens, at that time the best Red Sox pitcher in history, squared off against the heir to his Beantown throne, Pedro Martinez. It was an exhibition of power pitching dominance that was unheard of at that time, the height of the steroid era, when 12-10 slugfests were far more common than twin pitching masterpieces like this one. The game holds even more significance because each starting pitcher went all nine innings, a feat that feels borderline impossible in this day and age.

Clemens (37) was in his second year as a Yankee, fresh off his first World Series title and two years removed from his fifth Cy Young Award. Pedro (28) was coming off his second Cy Young campaign, well on the way to his third, and had already become a Boston icon thanks to the Herculean relief effort he had completed in Cleveland during Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS.

There were storylines aplenty in this ballgame. The former Red Sox legend went full Benedict Arnold by donning the pinstripes and winning the Fall Classic, something that had eluded Boston for 82 years and counting. Even worse, the Rocket’s Yankees had mowed down the Red Sox four games to one in the ALCS along the way.

The two teams were neck-and-neck at the start of 2000 and entered this weekend series in the Bronx tied at the top of the American League East with identical records of 26-17. After splitting the first two games, the stage was set for an epic Sunday Night Baseball rubber match pitting arch rivals against each other, with each team brandishing one of the best hurlers of all time.

The old ESPN Sunday Night Baseball music and graphics tugged at my heartstrings as I re-watched the broadcast this week. Back in the days when ESPN was the undisputed champion of the sports broadcasting world, this presentation conveyed the “big event” feel like Michael Buffer’s voice at a boxing match.

Unfortunately, Joe Morgan was there to balance out that big game feel with the big lame feel exuded by his inept color commentary and total lack of preparation. Jon Miller was a solid play-by-play guy, especially when you consider the task of carrying Morgan along for the ride. Aside from the numerous times when Miller artfully set Morgan up to drag some type of useful knowledge out of him, Joe was pretty much mum aside from diagnosing the previous pitch while watching replays.

My kneejerk reaction to seeing the Red Sox lineup at the start of this game was to reel back at how sucky it was. Aside from Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett in the middle of the order, Dan Duquette was kidding himself thinking that this team could stand toe-to-toe with the Yankees over a full season. Trot Nixon was my favorite player at the time, so it was great to see him batting second with a .318 batting average coming into the game. But DH Brian Daubach is in the conversation for worst number three hitter ever, Jeff Frye at the leadoff spot reeks of poverty, and seeing John Valentin hit eighth in this scrub-tacular lineup now has me re-thinking my longstanding opinion of him being a very good player.

The Yankees were still in curb-stomp mode, three titles into their dynasty with the fourth only five months away. One of Joe Torre’s best traits was that he rarely screwed around with the lineup. With Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Tino Martinez lined up up two through six, you could throw the Bleacher Brawls mid-week podcast crew in the other four slots and still win 80 games. This team won 87 and another World Series.

Nixon, the original Boston dirt dog, took over for Mike Greenwell as my favorite player once the Gator was shipped off to Japan after the 1996 season. Trot was homegrown, he was always filthy, he sported an elite cheek wad, and he was the first one out of the dugout when the benches cleared. Even better, he owned Clemens (.372 career BA with a 1.276 OPS). Regardless, he struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to become Clemens’ first strikeout victim of the game in a 1-2-3 first inning.

Jeter collected the first hit of the ballgame in the first inning. It was an infield dribbler into no-man’s land, which is as Jeter as it gets, but he was quickly erased on O’Neill’s inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

The duel was on.

Roger Clemens’ legendary splitter was diving from the get-go, with Nomar Garciaparra whiffing on a filthy one to open the second inning. Carl Everett was in the midst of his best season, already hitting .331 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI in late May. He grounded a single into center for Boston’s first hit of the game, then was immediately picked off by Clemens before another pitch was thrown. Given what we know about Everett’s temper, some Red Sox rookie likely received a mouthful of misdirected anger once Everett returned to the dugout (my money is on Wilton Veras). Ex-Yankee Mike Stanley whiffed to end the inning.

Pedro’s curveball was almost as nasty as his Bugs Bunny changeup, and it was biting as sharply as Clemens’ splitter. Posada fanned on a 12-6 beauty in the bottom of the second. Clemens responded by blowing away Jason Varitek, Posada’s counterpart, with a 92 mph fastball in the top of the third.

It was obvious by the fourth inning that each of these pitchers was in the zone. Clemens would strike out five of the next six batters he faced, getting Frye with a slider and Nixon with a splitter before retiring Daubach on an embarrassing check-swing tapper that Posada easily fielded for out number three. After a vintage Jeter bloop double led off the bottom of the fourth, O’Neill struck out on a  changeup and Williams popped out to third. Pedro then fell behind Posada 3-1, bringing the crowd to its feet. Refusing to give in, Pedro dropped a pair of unhittable curveballs to strikeout Jorge for the second time, stranding Jeter at third.

Nomar hacked feebly at another splitter to strikeout again in the top of the fifth. Everett followed him to the bench after being torched by an old school Rocket heater to give Clemens eight strikeouts through five.

Nobody was safe from these two pitchers, and that included the umpires. Home plate ump Ed Rapuano was smashed in the knee with a Martinez fifth-inning fastball that glanced off Varitek’s glove before detonating just above Rapuano’s shin guard. Following a 14-minute delay, Rapuano hit the showers and the game continued with only three umpires.

In an attempt to spark his offense following John Valentin’s sixth-inning single, Red Sox manager Jimy Williams  called for a hit-and-run with Jason Varitek at the plate. Unfortunately for Boston, Clemens chose that precise moment to throw his worst pitch of the night, a slider that almost hit Varitek right in his kitchen. Forced to swing at a pitch that was way inside, Tek failed to make contact and left Valentin hanging out to dry on his way to second. Posada’s throw nailed him by a mile, and Varitek became Roger’s tenth strikeout victim three pitches later.

Pedro finally retired Jeter by blowing a fastball by him in the bottom of the sixth. We were then treated to the obligatory Paul O’Neill equipment toss (helmet) when he was called out looking on a fastball on the outside corner. That made six strikeouts for Pedro through seven innings, with 16 of 21 first-pitch strikes.

It looked like the Red Sox were about to draw first blood in the top of the seventh, and 18-year-old Luke was surely giddy as hell when it was Trot Nixon that drew the blade. Drilling a one-out triple over the head of left fielder Ricky Ledee, Nixon was nearly thrown out on a bang-bang play sliding into third. Interestingly enough, the shorthanded umpiring crew came into play here when the first base ump had to sprint across the diamond to make the call at third. The play would have made for a very interesting replay review had it occurred today, as I’m still not sure if Nixon was truly safe.

Daubach surprised absolutely no one by striking out looking for the second out, and then Nomar ate it for the third time on yet another splitter to strand Nixon at third. The crowd roared and the Rocket pumped his fist into the air, now twelve strikeouts deep. Miller cooed from the booth while Morgan dozed.

The bottom of the seventh was an enormous inning in retrospect, with Pedro retiring Bernie, Jorge, and Tino on only six pitches. Without this rapid-fire inning, who knows if Martinez would have had enough gas in the tank to finish the game.

Clemens blew Everett away in the eighth inning for his 13th strikeout of the night. Pedro on the other hand, who had lagged behind Clemens in the K department to this point, grew stronger as the game continued. He dazzled Shane Spencer with a curveball and shredded Scott Brosius, the tenth straight batter he retired, with a fastball to give him eight strikeouts on the night.

With eight innings in the books, each team had zero runs on three hits.

Being the away team in a scoreless game in the top of the ninth, a sense of desperation crept into the Red Sox hitters. Varitek, a slow-footed catcher, tried in vain to bunt his way on. After throwing Varitek out at first, Clemens threw an inside fastball that appeared to hit Jeff Frye on the hand. Frye jogged down to first, doing his best to sell it, but the ump wasn’t buying. The pitch had actually hit the knob of the bat, which the replay confirmed, and Frye was sent back to home plate.

Clemens may have missed Frye with the ball, but Frye didn’t miss Clemens on the next pitch. Frye hit a one-hopper back to the box that ricocheted off Roger before dying in-between the mound and third base. The two-out infield single put Frye on first as Nixon came to the plate for the fourth time.

Christopher Trotman Nixon has a World Series ring, a .364 career OBP, two seasons with over 25 home runs, one season with 94 RBI, and various other accolades. Most impressively, he enjoyed an eight-year reign as my favorite MLB player. Yet despite all that, he may be best known in Boston for what he did with two out in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium on May 28th, 2000.

As I mentioned before, Nixon was a nightmare for Clemens. He was 3-8 against him lifetime following the seventh-inning triple, and he would go on to become one of the toughest matchups of the Rocket’s career.

Clemens targeted the outside corner with his first two pitches, a fastball away and a splitter on the black. Posada set up away again for the third pitch, but Clemens spiked an inside splitter into the dirt. Behind in the count 2-1 following that misfire, Clemens paced around the mound and breathed deeply as he took the stretch. Posada set up away again, and Clemens took aim at the outside corner once more.

Clemens’ 124th pitch of the game leaked two inches onto the outer third of the plate. Nixon was on it.

2-0 Red Sox.

Trot’s sixth home run of the season was the biggest regular season homer of his career, leaving Roger Clemens on the hook in one of the best performances of his career.

But it wasn’t over yet.

Pedro was throwing a gem and Jimy Williams was an old school manager. Closer Derek Lowe was ready in the bullpen. However, in an occurrence that would never happen in this day and age, Pedro Martinez came back out to the mound as the bottom of the ninth began.

And it began ugly.

After getting ahead of Chuck Knoblauch 0-2, Pedro drilled the Yankee leadoff hitter in the elbow with a fastball to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out and the heart of a dynasty’s order due up.

“You know Pedro didn’t want to hit him,” Morgan pontificated. Thanks for clearing that up, Joe.

It got uglier when Jeter collected his third hit (and the only ball he hit hard) of the game, a single in the hole between first and second.

Lowe watched from the bullpen as Jimy Williams strode out of the dugout to confer with his franchise player. After 20 seconds of conversation in which Pedro did not utter a single word, Williams headed back to the bench while Pedro remained on the mound.

It was his game to lose.

Paul O’Neill, arguably the biggest fan favorite of the Yankee dynasty, stepped to the plate representing the winning run. He was back in the dugout four pitches later courtesy of a 95 mph fastball, his third strikeout of the game. It was Pedro’s ninth.

Now it was Bernie Williams’ turn, and who better for Yankee fans to have up at this moment than the guy who would eventually set a Major League record for postseason home runs (a record Manny Ramirez would break years later).

A million hearts in New England fractured for a few seconds when Williams connected with an 89-mph changeup that rose high and deep toward the short porch in right field. Nixon drifted back for an eternity before finally settling under the ball at the warning track for the second out.

“That was just a ballpark scare,” Morgan informed us in a professorial tone. Whatever.

Pedro evidently didn’t feel challenged enough after Jeter stole second to put both tying runs in scoring position, because he drilled Posada in the arm with a 1-2 pitch to load the bases for Tino freaking Martinez. 

“I know he (Posada) doesn’t feel like Pedro was throwing at him,” said Morgan, always on top of things.

It was Martinez vs Martinez at the end of this game. And Martinez prevailed.

Pedro gave up on off-speed pitches after the close call on Bernie’s flyout. It was 96-mph heat from then on, and Tino rolled the 0-1 pitch right at Jeff Frye, who almost blew the whole damn game.

After fielding the routine grounder, Frye set himself and stepped toward first base. For some reason though, he didn’t throw the ball!

He took the ball out of his glove to throw it, then double clutched for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Maybe he didn’t initially have a good grip on the ball. Maybe he briefly froze up under the pressure of recording the last out of a historic battle waged between two immortals. Whatever the reason, by the time the ball finally settled into first baseman Mike Stanley’s glove, Tino had come within an eyelash of beating the throw.

Pedro keeled over at the waist when the umpire raised his fist to signal the 27th out, breathless after Frye’s gaffe and relieved that the win had been secured. His brother Ramon, also in the Red Sox rotation, had already taken a step onto the field to celebrate when Frye fielded the grounder. He doubled back into the dugout when he saw the double clutch, horrified that the game may actually continue, before finally smiling when the out was confirmed and making his way back onto the field to congratulate his little brother.

Pedro Martinez had prevailed in the greatest pitcher’s duel of his generation.

Roger Clemens had better stuff than Pedro on this night, yet another monumental accomplishment in his list of professional achievements. He made one mistake all game, a mistake that Trot Nixon parlayed into a Red Sox win.

  Boston Red Sox IP H R ER BB SO
Martinez  W (8-2) 9.0 4 0 0 1 9
  New York Yankees IP H R ER BB SO
Clemens  L (4-5) 9.0 5 2 2 0 13

This game is still talked about in Red Sox fan circles to this day, and it will continue to be talked about for decades to come. It’s so rare to see two titanic figures square off at the absolute top of their games with this type of result, and all of us who got to enjoy it bore witness to a truly special event. You could certainly make the argument that Roger Clemens was the better man on this night. But it was Pedro Martinez that took home the win.

I’d gladly trade this win in exchange for the World Series trophy that the Yankees took home five months later, but getting the victory in this unforgettable contest was a pretty damn good consolation prize.





By Luke

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