It has been said that only three things matter in the city of Boston—politics, baseball and revenge—and on one glorious July afternoon at Fenway Park they came together like the last chapter of a good novel.
As Roger Clemens stepped to the Fenway mound for the first time in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, a hearty sampling of boos cut through the applause and filled the old ballpark with tension. On the streets outside, vendors had sold souvenir WANTED posters charging Clemens with treason, and TV crews had tracked his every step through his former stomping grounds. The game meant nothing in the American League East standings but everything in the town where the Rocket had always stirred the fans' emotions like no other ballplayer of his era.
After a contentious public showdown with hard-line Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, Clemens had bolted Boston as a free agent at the end of the '96 season and signed a staggering four-year, $31.1 million deal with the rival Blue Jays. Convinced that Duquette had driven him out of Boston, Clemens attacked his 14th big league season like a desperate rookie, showing up at spring training in superb condition and winning his first 11 decisions of the regular season. He would go on to win 21 games and his fourth Cy Young Award, but not before making a dramatic campaign stop in his old district.
The Red Sox hitters never had a chance. Clemens may have left Boston for the money, but he came back for blood. He set a Toronto record with 16 strikeouts in eight innings, snuffing out the boos along with the overmatched Boston hitters. Before turning the game over to the Blue Jays' shaky bullpen, he struck out the side on 10 pitches in the eighth, ending his epic outing by making his old pal Mo Vaughn look feeble with a 97-mph fastball.
As he left the field to a thunderous ovation, Clemens shot a glance up toward the Red Sox owner's box, just to make sure everyone had been paying attention. The box score said he earned a 3-1 win, but everyone who was there knew Roger Clemens had done a whole lot more than that.