Pedro Martinez won a pitcher’s duel against former Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium during the 2000 season.
Drama, intrigue, high stakes, bitter rivals, the past meeting the present, plus a thrilling ending that had fans holding their collective breaths. The Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees. Pedro vs The Rocket. This game had it all.
It was May 28, 2000, and the Red Sox were in the Bronx for a pivotal series against the Yankees with the clubs locked in a tie at the top of the AL East. Both teams would send their aces to the mound for a duel that lived up to the hype. That’s saying quite a lot considering how much hype led up to this meeting. There’s always a fair amount when these rivals square off against each other but this time was different due to the starting pitchers involved.
Clemens anchored the staff of the Red Sox for the first 13 years of his career before bolting in free agency. The decision to let their star pitcher walk away so that he could spend the “twilight” of his career elsewhere backfired when a sudden resurgence gave Clemens’ career a second act. After winning consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Toronto Blue Jays, Clemens joined the Yankees. Once beloved in Boston, The Rocket became one of the city’s most despised enemies when he put on those pinstripes.
To fill the void at the top of their rotation following the departure of Clemens, the Red Sox traded for Pedro Martinez. The new ace quickly established himself as a fan-favorite, the hero we trusted to conquer the villain who turned against us.
Clemens faced the Red Sox on several occasions during his stint with the Blue Jays and he had a few more starts against them in ’99 with the Yankees. None of those starts were against Pedro though. This meeting in 2000 would mark the first battle between Pedro and Clemens.
Martinez was at his peak, coming off a Cy Young season and well on his way to capturing another. This was in the midst of arguably the most dominant consecutive seasons by a starting pitcher in the modern era. Pedro entered the game with a sparkling 1.19 ERA and every intention of lowering that figure in what we expected would be a tightly contested pitcher’s duel.
It was a shaky start to the 2000 season for Clemens, who entered this game with a 4.26 ERA. However, he had won two of the last three Cy Young Awards and would recover to finish sixth on the ballot that season. Make no mistake, Clemens was still feared as one of the most dominant pitchers in the game at that time.
Both pitchers breezed through the early innings while exchanging zeroes on the scoreboard. The Yankees got an early base-runner when Derek Jeter singled in the first inning, only to be immediately wiped out on an inning-ending double play. Carl Everett hit a line drive to shallow center for a base hit but was quickly picked off by Clemens.
Neither side managed to put a runner in scoring position until Jeter’s fourth-inning double. Ricky Ledee stole second base after singling with two outs in the fifth. The Yankees failed to advance the runner both times.
Boston’s bats weren’t having any luck either. Their first opportunity to move a runner into scoring position fell apart when John Valentine was caught stealing second in the sixth inning. It wasn’t until Trot Nixon tripled on a line drive into the left-center field gap that the Red Sox lineup posed a serious threat. Clemens squashed that chance by striking out the next two batters to escape the inning.
We reached the ninth with the game still scoreless but both pitchers finally showed signs of wearing down. Clemens made quick work of the first two batters, retiring both on weak groundouts. Then a Jeff Frye grounder squeaked through the infield for a base hit, opening the door for Boston.
The Red Sox tallied only two extra-base hits in the game. Nixon’s triple went to waste but he made sure that his next one would not. Clemens tried to pitch him away on a 2-1 count but caught too much of the plate and Nixon crushed it deep to right field for a two-run homer.
Clemens would induce a groundout to wrap up his night but the damage had been done. He allowed only those two runs over nine innings while striking out 13 batters – an outstanding performance by most standards but it wasn’t quite enough on this night.
The drama wasn’t over yet though. Pedro still had to get through the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees weren’t willing to go quietly.
Pedro hit the first batter of this final frame and Jeter’s third hit of the game put two on with nobody out. A strikeout and a fly out put the Red Sox on the verge of victory but the latter was deep enough to right field to advance Chuck Knoblauch to third. Jeter then stole second to put the tying run in scoring position.
In case that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, Martinez hit Jorge Posada with a pitch to load the bases. Pedro’s fearlessness to pitch inside often put him among the league leaders in the hit by pitch category. As dominant as he was that year with a major league record 0.74 WHIP, Martinez hit 14 batters during the 2000 season, the third-highest total of his career. Hitting Posada was dangerously close to being the most costly from that total. There was no margin for error with the bases juiced and the tying run on base.
That brought Tino Martinez to the plate with the game on the line. The two-time All-Star was having a rough season by his standards but his ability to hit in the clutch was well-documented from the four rings he won with the Yankees.
This would not be a night for heroics from the Yankees first baseman, as Pedro got the better of the Martinez battle. Pedro got ahead with a first-pitch strike, followed by a ground ball to second base for the routine out that ended the game.
Pedro’s final line – a complete game shutout with four hits, one walk, two HBP and nine strikeouts.
The win gave the Red Sox a one-game lead in the division but it wouldn’t last. The Yankees would end up winning 87 games to clinch the AL East by a narrow margin over the 85-win Red Sox. The Bronx Bombers would go on to win another World Series while Boston missed out on the postseason. We were still a few years away from the Red Sox ending their long championship drought in historic fashion so the rivalry felt a bit one-sided at the time.
Except when Pedro was on the mound. He proved that he could beat anyone, anywhere at any time. The season didn’t pan out the way Red Sox fans wanted but winning a duel against Clemens in Yankee Stadium was a sweet consolation.