The Boston Red Sox built an eight-game lead in the American League East without the services of their best pitcher, Roger Clemens, the three-time Cy Young Award winner who missed the first month of the season because of a shoulder injury.
Now Clemens, who threw five scoreless innings Wednesday night to lead the Red Sox to a 5-1 victory over the Angels before an announced 23,372 in Fenway Park, appears on his way back to the form that made him one of the league's dominant pitchers.
Kind of scary, isn't it?
"They're going to be that much tougher with him, no doubt about it," said Angel left fielder Tony Phillips, who had a .382 lifetime average against Clemens but struck out three times against him, four times in the game. "He was a horse when he came into the league and he's a horse now."
Clemens, who couldn't find a groove in his first outing last Friday, when he gave up five runs, six hits and hit three Seattle Mariner batters in five innings, was practically untouchable Wednesday.
He spotted his fastball on the inside and outside corners and mixed in a cut fastball. His slider was sharp. His forkball darted from the strike zone to the dirt, fooling several Angels.
Clemens lasted only five innings again Wednesday, but the right-hander gave up only two hits and struck out eight. He threw 87 pitches, 54 for strikes.
But he was not overpowering. This was the new-model Clemens, a 32-year-old who is not built as much for speed as he is efficiency.
"Tonight was a pretty good indication of how good a pitcher he's become," Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann said. "He obviously doesn't have the stuff he'll have later in the season, but he doesn't have to just blow the ball by you anymore. When he first came up he came after you with two pitches. Now he has three or four pitches and moves the ball around the strike zone."
Sounds like a description Lachemann would use for his ace, left-hander Chuck Finley, who would have matched Clemens through six innings if not for Luis Alicea's run-scoring single in the third.
Finley kept the Angels close, but the offense, which has produced an average of only 2.6 runs per game while Finley is on the mound this season, fizzled after producing 12 runs and 17 hits Tuesday night.
"Maybe they overdid it," said Finley, who allowed four runs and eight hits in seven innings. "I wished they would have saved some of those runs for tonight."
The Angels had two good chances to tie the score but did a poor job at what Lachemann calls "situational hitting."
Exhibit 1: Jim Edmonds doubled to lead off the sixth, but Tim Salmon, trying to advance Edmonds with a ground ball to the right side, grounded out to third, instead. Chili Davis flied out and J.T. Snow grounded out to end the inning.
Exhibit 2: Carlos Martinez was hit by a pitch to lead off the seventh, and Spike Owen squared to bunt as Cormier threw to first. Lachemann, trying to catch the Red Sox off guard, took off the bunt sign, but Owen pulled a hard grounder foul. Owen looked at Strike 2, then grounded into a double play.
Finley, who gave up a total of four earned runs and 12 hits while winning his last three starts, could hold the Red Sox off no longer.
Boston scored two in the seventh on singles by Tim Naehring, Mike Greenwell, Mike Macfarlane and Troy O'Leary to take a 3-0 lead and added two more in the eighth as Lachemann emptied his bullpen in an effort to stop the rally.
Rheal Cormier pitched 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings for the Red Sox, and the Angels broke up the shutout on Spike Owen's RBI double off Ken Ryan in the ninth.
While the Angel lead in the AL West slipped to half a game, Boston increased its cushion in the East to nine games. Already there is talk of a World Series in Boston, and now Clemens is back to boost the Red Sox's pennant hopes.
"He's their ace," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. "When you're missing your ace, mentally, when his spot comes up you don't have complete confidence that you're going to win. But when you have a Clemens in that slot, you know you have a good chance at winning."