You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1984, Roger Clemens won his first major league game.
Clemens said one of his favorite things to do growing up in Texas was to go to the Astrodome and "listen'' to Nolan Ryan warm up in the bullpen. That sound, especially indoors, was unmistakable. Due to Ryan's influence, Clemens once said, "I came in as a power pitcher. I left as a power pitcher.''
Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, two more than anyone else, and finished in the top three in the voting in three other seasons. He won 354 games, ninth-most all time, second-most (to Greg Maddux) of anyone who has pitched after 1965. Clemens led the league in ERA seven times. He is third all time with 4,672 strikeouts. He won the Triple Crown -- first in wins, ERA and strikeouts -- in consecutive seasons (1997-98).
In these troubling times, let's acknowledge, at least for today, the intensity that Clemens brought to every start during his 24-year career. I once saw him get crushed in one start, after which he said, "I could hear the crowd,'' which meant, to me, that he wasn't as focused as he needed to be.
On a Sunday in spring training 2003, at 7:30 a.m., three hours before the Yankees were due at the ballpark, I saw Clemens throwing a football in a parking lot, him just him and his trainer. In 1986, then-Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams checked into the Grand Hyatt in New York at 7 a.m. "Roger was coming in the hotel when I got there,'' he said. "He had just run the streets of New York. He had pitched the night before.''
There are a million stories of that Clemens ferocity, none better than Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series. Clemens, then with the Astros, had been hit hard in losing Game 2, but when Game 4 started spinning uncontrollably into extra innings, Clemens, without being asked, put on his spikes and went to the bullpen. He pitched scoreless 16th, 17th and 18th innings to beat the Braves in one of the best postseason games ever.
Clemens, of course, is the only pitcher to strike out 20 in the first nine innings of a game, and he did it twice, 10 years apart. The first one -- the first time in baseball history -- came in April 1986 against the Mariners. Four days after that start, the Red Sox were in Seattle. Clemens was to start the next day and was being interviewed by a confused Seattle TV guy.
"Roger,'' the confused TV guy said, "the last time you faced the Mariners, you struck out 30.''
"Well,'' Clemens said, patiently, "it was only 20.''
"Well,'' the confused TV guy said, "maybe 30 the next time.''
To which Clemens didn't say, but he should have said: "Yeah, I'm going to pitch 10 innings and strike out everyone!"
Other baseball notes from May 20
In 1945, in a doubleheader against the Yankees, St. Louis Browns outfielder Pete Gray had four hits, two RBIs and made several fine defensive plays. He only had one arm. He lost his right arm in a childhood accident.
In 1921, Hal Newhouser was born. He is the only pitcher to win the MVP in back-to-back seasons (1944-45).
In 2018, Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks was clocked at 105 mph. "I was watching his video one day,'' said the Brewers' Ryan Braun. "It didn't have radar gun readings. He threw a pitch that had great, late movement. I thought it was his changeup. We found out that it was his two-seamer. He threw it 102 mph. I couldn't believe it.''
In 1963, David Wells was born. For a big, heavyset man, Wells was a great athlete. He could dunk a basketball.