Every fifth day, Roger Clemens gives the Red Sox perhaps the closest thing in baseball to a guaranteed victory. It’s the four days between his starts that give the Red Sox problems, because of a mediocre starting rotation and a bullpen with the highest earned-run average in the American League.
“People say a lot of bad things about us, and I take that personally,” relief pitcher Jeff Gray said. “They’re talking about all of us, but I’m one of the six and I don’t like to hear it.”
Gray was booed by the 33,365 fans at Fenway Park Sunday when he relieved Clemens to start the eighth inning, but the jeers turned to cheers when Gray gave up only one hit in two innings to preserve Clemens’ 4-1 victory over the Angels and keep Boston .001 ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays atop the AL East.
“We had lost (three consecutive) games and we didn’t want it to go on. With Roger on the mound, we knew we were going to get a quality start,” said Gray, the designated closer while Jeff Reardon recovers from back surgery.
“If we did our jobs, we knew we were going to find a way to win.”
Clemens (18-5) didn’t win by overpowering the Angels, although he struck out eight to increase his league-leading total to 183.
“After what happened in Oakland, the complete game, I left a lot there,” he said, referring to his 2-0 victory over the A’s last Tuesday, a performance that taxed him emotionally as well as physically (he made 128 pitches). “Today, I was just trying to make good pitches when I had to.”
He pitched well enough Sunday to reduce his major league-leading ERA to 2.04. Including the third-inning run he allowed on a double by Dick Schofield and a single by Pete Coachman, the two-time Cy Young Award winner has yielded only four earned runs in his last 49 1/3 innings and has won six consecutive games.
“He really didn’t have his great stuff, but he’s Roger Clemens, superstar,” Red Sox catcher John Marzano said. “He doesn’t have to have his good stuff to win.”
Good defensive play in the second inning might have given the Angels a better chance at a sweep and sustaining their five-game winning streak.
Coachman, playing third base for the second game in a row despite having only about 15 games’ experience there for triple-A Edmonton, turned a hard-hit but playable grounderby Luis Rivera into a run-scoring double and later bobbled a routine grounder by Carlos Quintana. Left fielder Luis Polonia increased the damage by dropping an easy fly ball by Wade Boggs, allowing Jody Reed to score the fourth run against Jim Abbott (8-11).
Asked if Clemens had appeared beatable, Angel Manager Doug Rader interrupted his postgame meal to nod. “Had we caught the ball, we would have been in a position to do just that,” he said. “But when you get down three or four runs against a guy like that, it’s very difficult . . . If we’d have caught the ball we had a chance at three. But if you don’t play defense, you don’t win.”
The Red Sox scored in the first while Abbott struggled a bit, capitalizing on a walk to Reed, a ground out and a single by Boggs. They scored again in the second when Tom Brunansky singled with one out, went to second on a grounder and scored on Rivera’s double. After Reed singled in Rivera, Coachman bobbled Quintana’s grounder, which sent Reed to third.
“I should have made both plays,” Coachman said. “The first one, I should have backhanded but it curved away from me. The second I should have charged on one hop and it took a bounce away from me. It proved to be the difference in the game . . . That put us out of the ballgame, those runs.”
It also put Abbott in the position of still not having scored back-to-back victories this season.
“I get calls from home and friends who ride me about that, but I try not to be result-oriented,” he said. “I care more about if I’m throwing well and I’ve thrown well two in a row at times but the results haven’t gone my way.
“This has been a tough year because of the struggles the team has gone through and I’ve gone through. Numbers-wise I’m not real pleased, but throwing-wise I do feel I’ve gotten better.”
Gray is sure to get a better reception from the Fenway fans in his next appearance, but he knows they haven’t forgiven the bullpen’s transgressions.
“I don’t think one day such as today qualifies to change that,” he said. “For myself, I’m looking forward to being called upon in situations like today and helping in any way I can. I’m dying to bust down the door and get in there.”
Pitcher Bert Blyleven was placed on the disabled list retroactive to Aug. 11 because of a strained right shoulder. He last pitched Aug. 10 and twice had to miss starts because of weakness in his shoulder. The 39-year-old right-hander will be examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum today or tomorrow.
Right-hander Joe Grahe, who started in Blyleven’s place against Oakland Aug. 4 after Blyleven’s family was involved in a car accident, was recalled from triple-A Edmonton and will start Tuesday in Detroit. Grahe didn’t get a decision against the A’s in his major league debut. The Angels have placed 14 players on the disabled list this season, one short of the team high set in 1983.
Infielder Donnie Hill, who suffered a strained left hamstring Saturday, didn’t start Sunday but pinch-hit for catcher Lance Parrish in the ninth inning. Parrish was ejected for disputing umpire Rick Reed’s strike call on a pitch by Jeff Gray. Hill inherited a 1-and-2 count and grounded to second, ending his seven-game hitting streak.
The game was delayed 66 minutes because of rain. . . . The Red Sox won the season series from the Angels, 7-5. The Angels have won the season series from three teams, beating Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto by 7-5 in each.