By now, you’ve seen the stat. It was way back in 1995 when Tim Wakefield and the unforgettable Vaughn Eshelman both started the season 3-0, a feat repeated by no two Boston starting pitchers again until this month: Curt Schilling (who aims for win No. 4 tonight against Tampa) and Josh Beckett have done it this time around.
While the modern day 1-2 punch was to be somewhat expected (Like an unpropitious ad points out, “Schilling and Beckett in the same rotation? Come on.”), the 1995 6-0 combo came as a shock, particularly considering neither Wakefield nor Eshelman started a game in a strike-delayed April back in 1995. The immortals to start the year in the rotation under Kevin Kennedy were Aaron Sele, Rheal Cormier, Erik Hanson, and Frankie Rodriguez.
Hanson had a surprising 15-win season, of course, but Sele lasted just three games before succumbing to injuries, Cormier started just 11 more games before becoming an integral piece of the AL East champion Boston bullpen, and Rodriguez, still the most over-hyped pitching prospect this side of Brian Rose, lasted just two starts, getting blasted in each, and was dealt later that summer to the Twins for Rick Aguilera.
It was May 2 when Eshelman made his major league debut, a three-hit handcuffing of the Yankees that remained the last time a lefty starter had won his debut against New York until Toronto’s Gustavo Chacin beat them in 2004. Later that month after being recalled from Pawtucket, Wakefield started a stretch in which he went 14-1 to start off, but struggled mightily toward the finish line, finishing 16-8.
More than a decade later, Wakefield is still fluttering on the Fenway hill, sandwiched by a pair of fireballers who have given notice to the rest of the American League that Boston’s starting pitching is back to the dominant level of 2004, with the potential to get downright, throw-your-hands-in-the-air-and-surrender nasty.
Suppose, let’s say, this idea of Roger Clemens returning to baseball for one more year (for what, the fourth straight year?) goes Boston’s way, that he decides to go full circle by ending it where it all began more than two decades ago.
Unless the Yankees get desperate (if last night’s Randy Johnson outing is any indication, they might be) and toss “offer he couldn’t refuse” cash at him -- which they likely will -- it’s going to come down to Houston and Boston for Clemens. Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal wonders why Clemens would want to face the powerful lineups of the AL, particularly now that the Astros need him even more with the loss of Brandon Backe. The Red Sox have a nice, comfy open spot in their rotation that David Wells filled for all of four innings before landing back on the DL. If the Rangers ever were a legitimate option (Tom Hicks invites Clemens to Opening Day and in a classic move, he spends the morning with the competition), they were about as likely a landing spot as Miami for Clemens.
So, let’s say this dream for Red Sox fans and baseball romantics everywhere comes to fruition. Roger Clemens returns to Boston, helps lead his former team to the World Series, fences are mended everywhere, and the greatest righthanded pitcher in the history of the game goes into the Hall of Fame with a “B” on his cap. Besides some revisionist fans who can’t bear to let go of their spite, who else is unhappy about that chain of events? Besides Dan Duquette.
Now imagine (and this one takes a little bit of “out there-ness”) that Keith Foulke -- wait, don’t quit here -- straightens things out enough to take a lights out, dominant closer like Jonathan Papelbon out of the niche he has created for himself; either that, or Craig Hansen has matured enough that he’s ready to take on a major league closing role full-time. So far, he’s pitched six scoreless innings this season for Portland, and if you think he’s too young for such pressure, might we remind you he’s three months younger that Oakland closer Huston Street, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. Either way, the end result becomes what the Red Sox ideally want to see from the kid, Jonathan Papelbon in the starting rotation.
So, how’s this then?: Schilling, Beckett, Clemens, Papelbon, and Wakefield.
I mean, the very fact that such a rotation is even a remote possibility means it has to happen. It just has to.
You have to know Clemens is watching with piqued interest over being part of such a Fab Five. Jerry Remy wouldn’t even have to think very hard for another T-shirt slogan -- there it is.
Clemens has got Boston and Houston, both at 10-4 to start the season, both interested in having him jump on board for the ride. With the Astros, he gets to re-join buddy Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in the rotation, with what has thus far been a far improved offense. The offense hasn’t exactly been anything to crow about in Boston as of yet, but Clemens could sit well with the notion that David Ortiz is sitting in the dugout ready to take many of his deficits away with one mighty swing. From the Red Sox’ perspective, they have to know they’d also be getting an invaluable mentor to guys like Beckett and Papelbon. His influence on young major league pitchers is well-documented.
Eleven years ago, after missing the first month-plus with a shoulder muscle strain, Clemens slid into the Boston rotation on a June 3 night at Fenway Park, a game in which John Valentin hit three home runs to help the Red Sox to a 6-5 win over Seattle. Two nights later, Wakefield pitched a 10-inning masterpiece against the Mariners, winning his third straight game.
More than a decade later they could be part of the same rotation yet again. Schilling, Beckett, Clemens, Papelbon, and Wakefield. That, folks, is a recipe of ingredients for cooking up a summer of baseball fun the likes of which are certainly rare. Even here.