He's got just one win since baseball's best convened in the Motor City, and suddenly the winds shifting in from America's midland are carrying a healthy dose of "Told ya so's."
Matt Clement was there, remember, in Detroit with the rest of the game's All-Stars, by virtue of his 10-2 mark, with a 3.85 ERA to boot, numbers that many thought warranted a start for the American League. Turned out that Clement had to wait his turn to even make the team as a replacement, a factor that caused a little bit of friction, shall we say, in the Red Sox clubhouse thanks to his and Mike Timlin's being overlooked by AL skipper Terry Francona.
Still, it seemed that Clement had finally put it all together, silencing his critics who brazenly suggested that he was an almost over-the-hill pitcher at 30, yet to attain a once-thought promised success in the bigs.
Ten-and-two. All-Star. Take that.
Since then though, well, Clement has done next to nothing.
Since his one inning of work in the AL's All-Star victory, Clement has gone just 1-1 over seven starts with an even 6.00 ERA. He's dishing out more walks (1.9 per start pre-All-Star vs. 2.14 per game post-All-Star), striking out fewer batters (5.4 to 4.14 per start), and pitching fewer innings per outing on average (6.5 innings per start vs. 5.14 innings per start). In the Windy City, they'll tell you that they expected this all along.
When Theo Epstein inked the now 31-year-old Clement to a three-year deal back in December, it came with some criticism in that the righthander was always tabbed as a pitcher with promise who had yet to put it all together. Clement had never won as many as 15 games in a season, and coming into to 2005 was 69-75 in his seven-year career. Meanwhile, all the rage was over the Yankees' acquisition of Carl Pavano, 29, who despite the hype had won 15 games just once in his career (his 18-8 2004 free agent season), and is still a sub-.500 career pitcher, one likely to miss the rest of the season for New York.
Round 1 already goes to Clement, even if by some semblance of default. Long-term, we'll see. But even with the uncertainty surrounding Pavano, the bottom line is Clement has just the one more win to show than the sidelined Yankee pitcher in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, don't look now (like you haven't) but those same Yankees are just 1 1/2 games behind Boston, which seems to be facing pitching problems similar to those the Yankees faced a month ago. All of a sudden, a third straight trip the playoffs, a foregone conclusion not so long ago (like say, Wednesday?), have become somewhat of a question with the hot streak of the Yankees, and a wild card race as crowded as a northbound Louisiana highway. Curt Schilling looked terrible in his white horse return, nobody can close out games, Kevin Millar is still allowed access to the players' parking lot, and Bronson Arroyo has played more August concerts than he has August wins. All that, and Clement, Boston's $25.5 million pitcher, has one second-half win to his credit.
On the surface, Clement's season is eerily similar to his 2004 campaign, when he turned a solid 7-4 start into a mere nine-win season after failing to win more than twice after June 8. This year, he's won just twice since June 25, and some of us have to wonder if the Red Sox should have heeded the warnings with such a similar resume appearing to unfold.
While there's no denying Clement has hit a rough stretch (he was abysmal in July, with an 8.88 ERA), he in truth should be 14-3 going into tonight's start against (yes) red-hot Tampa Bay, which is coming off a weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Angels. In his last three starts, Clement has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings of work, yet has nothing to show for any one of them. He has folks like Mike Remlinger (we hardly knew thee … thankfully) and Mike Timlin for blowing wins against Texas and Los Angeles, respectively, back-to-back games in which Clement allowed one earned run.
In fact, perhaps nobody was more pleased with yesterday's release of the utter disaster that was Remlinger than Clement, who couldn't have viewed the addition of his former teammate with the Cubs as a welcome addition to a bullpen already plagued by inefficiency. The truth is, for all the grief Clement gets about winning just twice after early June last season, over his final 18 starts, he allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of them, but was more often than not plagued by a dysfunctional Cubs offense, or a shaky bullpen. One year later, he can't argue so much about the offense, as he's backed by the best in baseball. But gripes about the bullpen he is certainly allowed, as it's been the worst in the game all season long, a factor Epstein continually has tried to rectify, but with the final month on our doorstep, perhaps only a miracle can attain such impossibilities.
One year later, and Clement has himself to blame for much of his second-half struggles, kicking things off July 16, and proceeding to allow 17 earned runs over the next 19 innings pitched. But since that Aug. 4 start against Kansas City -- an encouraging five-inning, six-run performance in that it was the first outing for the hurler since nearly being decapitated in Tampa Bay a week earlier -- Clement has been more like the pitcher who was 5-0 in May, albeit with a lack digits, crooked or straight, to go in that left column.
Instead of trying to win No. 15 for the first time in his career tonight, Clement will instead try to shrug off a personal drought against a team looking to play major spoiler in the postseason race. Matt Clement has been 11-3 for nearly a month now. His team, however, is 18-7 this season in games in which he pitched. Just for comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals are 22-4 in games pitched by Chris Carpenter, whom many favor to take home the National League Cy Young Award.
Clement won't be taking home any personal postseason hardware, but don't be led to believe by our friends to the west that what we're watching is what they warned us about.