Running Diary: Roger Clemens jumps into WEEI broadcast booth to call Red Sox-Astros

John Tomase
June 16, 2017 - 11:45 pm
Roger Clemens at Fenway Park in 2013.

Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Roger Clemens and Red Sox fans have shared every co-dependent emotion between adulation and betrayal. Now they're fully engaged in forgiveness.

For fans of a certain age, The Rocket will always rank alongside Pedro Martinez as the best pitcher they've ever seen. Pedro's prime was better, but Clemens did it longer.

Since retiring, Clemens has periodically returned to Fenway, where he's consistently greeted with appreciation and respect bordering on unconditional love. We forgive him for the mediocre end to his Red Sox career. We forgive him for the Yankees years. More and more of us even forgive him for the whole steroid thing, with his Hall of Fame vote totals climbing each year.

On Friday night, Clemens stepped back into our lives for a couple of hours, joining Tim Neverett in WEEI's broadcast booth during a 2-1 win over the Astros behind a strong start from Drew Pomeranz and a go-ahead homer from Mookie Betts.

Those of us who remember hanging on Clemens' every word during his late-80s glory years felt right at home listening to his Texas drawl. And as the broadcast progressed and Clemens grew more comfortable, he delivered some legitimately unique insights, thanks in no small part to Neverett, who wisely set Clemens up and then got out of the way.

Anyway, here's a running diary of the highlights.

8:06 p.m. -- Welcome to Houston! It's the Red Sox radio broadcast with franchise icon Roger Clemens! What a night to welcome back the Rocket in this battle vs. the first-place Astros!

"Now let's pause 10 seconds for station identification on the Red Sox radio network."

Man. Buzzkill.

8:09 -- Clemens says hello in low-key fashion. Thanking his friend, Red Sox Hall of Famer Joe Castiglione. Or as Clemens calls him, "Joe C." Says he's looking forward to broadcasting two of his former teams. And that's pretty much it. Let's get to baseball.

8:10 -- Neverett asks Clemems what he thinks of Mookie Betts. Clemens ambles on over to Chris Young during a meandering answer. This is noteworthy only because within an inning or two, Clemens is going to get locked in.

8:11 -- Holy holy! Clemens faced Dustin Pedroia! It's so easy to forget, but Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007, Clemens' final season. Roger went 6-6 with a  4.18 ERA for the Yankees at age 44. "I didn't like facing him, but it's great to see what he's still doing with this club," Clemens says. Pedroia went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice and hit-by-pitch vs. him, if you're wondering.

8:16 -- Clemens hates the over-slide replay rule and sounds a little old-bastardy, but I'll allow it, because I agree with him. "When a guy beats the throw, I just don't get it when you come off one inch and then it changes the game completely sometimes." Amen.

8:17 -- Clemens questions the Astros challenging just one of these plays, with Pedroia seemingly sliding safely into second. "This is not going to get overturned," Clemens says. "I'd be shocked."

8:18 -- He's right. The call stands. Clemens credits Pedroia's yoga classes for allowing him to contort himself safely into the bag. Then he compares him to Spiderman. Clemens is warming up.

8:22 -- There's a foul ball back into the booth. "It's been a while since I've seen one come back up the middle," Clemens admits. Neverett has his back. "If you drop one up here, you hear about it," he warns.

8:37 -- Evan Gattis is up. Clemens wonders if there's sawdust in the box when he puts his bat down. Clemens notes he's like a member of, "the Gas House Gang, going to punish the baseball." Impressive 1934 Cardinals reference. Clemens isn't that old.

8:50 -- Back to Pedroia. Clemens recalls how the youngster stood right on top of home plate. "He let that bat go," Clemens says. "He got your attention pretty quick."

8:52 -- "Boston been fairly aggressive on the basepaths?" Clemens asks. "That's fair to say," Neverett replies dryly. Red Sox make more outs on bases than anyone.

9:00 -- Mike Fiers throws a wild pitch that practically reaches orbit. "Everyone felt a little breeze on that one, "Clemens says. "I would say they got that one right."

9:06 -- Astros outfielder Derek Fisher steps in. "He's got a good number on. No. 21," Clemens says. "Bring him a little luck." The Red Sox haven't handed out Clemens' number since he left in 1996. Former clubhouse manager Joe Cochran, who now works the visiting clubhouse, kept the number out of circulation in honor of his friend.

9:24 -- Clemens pays Neverett a compliment. "Tim, you were dead-on with his curveball being a baby curve," Clemens says of Pomeranz. If you listen closely, you can practically hear Neverett beaming. Hey, it's not every day a multiple Cy Young winner praises your acumen.

9:26 -- Clemens hits us with some insight into the "gamesmanship" that takes place behind the plate, noting that catcher Christian Vazquez pats the dirt near the batter's feet to make him think the pitch is coming inside. Pomeranz instead throws a changeup away. Clemens says that one of his former backstops, Tony Pena, "was the Seve Ballesteros of catching. He had a game within a game."

9:28 -- Pomeranz starts a double play on a comebacker. Clemens notes that when a pitcher fields a ball in front of the mound and wheels around, he plants his lead foot uphill, but then must the throw ball downhill to second. "You'd be surprised how many guys throw that ball into center field," Clemens says.

9:32 -- Clemens details his history of scouting reports, beginning under former Red Sox manager Ralph Houk. "Back then we kept it on a notepad," he said. "You had a pencil and some notepad. Then it went to a binder. Then a few years later it went to a Blackberry." And then a few years after that, Clemens had to make sure his coaches knew he wasn't texting during meetings. He was just entering a scouting report in his phone.

9:35 -- Remember Clemens' first 20-strikeout game? Neverett does. It turns out he had a ticket to the game on April 29, 1986, but ended up at a Kenmore bar instead, where he could watch the Sox and the Celtics, who were in the playoffs. "A huge, huge mistake," he deadpans. Clemens remembers two things from that night against the Mariners: the guy who hung K signs showed up midgame, and he's been told no game has ever sold more tickets after the first pitch, which makes sense.

9:37 -- Clemens called 90 percent of his own games from the mound. He notes that after long foul balls, Clemens and his catcher would silently exchange signals about the next pitch while the batter gathered himself, the umpires got a new baseball, etc. . . He tells a story about Nolan Ryan. "Nolan would show his teeth when he wanted to throw a changeup," Clemens says.

9:41 -- More gamesmanship. Second baseman Marty Barrett used to signal pitch type to right fielder Dwight Evans behind his back -- fist for fastball, open hand for curve. Opposing bullpens picked up on it and would use towels to signal pitch type to hitters. "Those of us with nasty breaking balls were wondering why no one was swinging at them," Clemens says.

9:43 -- Shoutout to Debbie Clemens! For some reason, she's driving around trying to find the game on the radio. No MLB At-Bat App? Apparently Clemens is thinking the same thing. "Certainly there's a computer on the property?" he wonders. Clemens goes on to say that when he played, she constantly drove around trying to find the game on the radio or in a bar with a satellite.

Just throwing this out there, but Clemens made over $150 million in his career.

9:45 -- Roger's a grandpa and he wants to be called "Papi Rocket." His oldest son has sixth-month-old twins.

9:48 -- Clemens is looking forward to throwing batting practice as part of a Jimmy Fund auction. He sounds genuinely enthusiastic about it.

9:54 -- "Make a play!" Clemens yells as a foul ball sails into the broadcast booth of Astros radio man Steve Sparks, the former knuckleballer. The ball hits Sparks' laptop. "Oh, Sparksy," Clemens says.

10:02 -- You've undoubtedly heard about a pitcher flying open. But what does this mean? Clemens boils it down after Pomeranz walks two in the sixth. "The ball is easier to pick up, and it's going to tail," Clemens explains. For Pomeranz, this means missing up and away to right-handed hitters.

10:16 -- Clemens talks pitch clocks. Said he used one in a College World Series exhibition game, if I'm hearing that correctly. This shouldn't surprise anyone: Clemens notes that Josh Beckett was docked a ball for taking too long. "I learned how to get warmed up with five pitches, instead of seven or eight," Clemens says. "It was pretty quick."

10:31 -- Clemens would like Joe Kelly to dial down the velo a notch to maintain command. What good is 101 if it's a ball?

10:56 -- Clemens had great mechanics, but he says his pitching coaches needed to stay on top of three checkpoints for him -- his chin, drifting back over the rubber, and feeling tall. "[The pitching coach] could whistle from the dugout and I could fix it in a pitch or two," Clemens says.

11:13 -- Clemens rightly asks why Craig Kimbrel doesn't have a nickname. It's a fair question. Clemens says that Kimbrel spins the ball so hard, he's guessing you could hear it if you're close enough. "You can hear them seams talking when the ball's in motion to the plate," he says.

11:17 -- Game ends with Carlos Beltran at the plate. Of all active players, only Ichiro and Albert Pujols faced Clemens more than Beltran, who batted .263 with no homers in 22 plate appearances. Clemens praises Beltran for the monster postseason he had as an Astros teammate in 2004, when he homered eight times in 12 games.

11:23 -- Mookie Betts joins the postgame. Clemens prefaces his question with, "Mookie, hey, this is Rocket."

11:25 -- "I had a blast, Timmy," Clemens says while signing off. He finishes by thanking "my second home in New England and Boston. I love you."