Cy Young And Mvp
Clemens didn't have to wait long for redemption. In 1986, he roared back to lead the American League in wins (twenty-four with just four losses), winning percentage (.857) and ERA (2.48). He started and won the All-Star game. One memorable night against the Seattle Mariners in May of that year, Clemens struck out twenty batters. No pitcher in 111 years of major league history had ever done that before. "It puts me in the Hall of Fame, at least in one sense," he told the Boston Globe. "Nobody can take that away from me. I just hope people don't think it's a misprint." He won the Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher and was voted Most Valuable Player as the Red Sox won the pennant for the first time in eleven seasons. He pitched in two World Series games that October, but won neither.
In the 1987 season, Clemens had another Cy Young-quality season, winning twenty games, striking out 256 batters, and posting a 2.97 ERA, good enough to beat the jinx that traditionally plagues Cy Young winners and giving him his second consecutive award—a feat achieved by only four other pitchers, Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, and Greg Maddux.
With great achievement and fame comes the potential for great controversy and in this category too Clemens has always been a leader. In 1988 Clemens left training camp in a salary dispute. He criticized team management for its treatment of players and their families, criticism that was largely interpreted as complaints about New England and its baseball fans. Clemens drew the ire of Red Sox fans and heard boos for the first time.
In 1988 and 1989, Clemens was bothered by a strained back which limited his effectiveness. In 1988, won 18 games, lost 12, led the majors strikeouts and shutouts, and had an ERA of 3.13. Boston won the American League East title but was swept in the American League championship series by Oakland. In 1989, he was again off his usual pace, winning only seventeen games, and striking out 231. In 1990, Clemens regained his top-of-the-game form, winning twenty-one games, losing just six, and posting a league-leading 1.93 ERA. A performance brilliant enough to inspire Sports Illustrated's Leigh Montville to rhapsodize, "When he is pitching well, when the control is good, when the speed is up, he is almost untouchable. The best pitcher in baseball. No debate. The evening sports news will be a collage of strikeouts, batters swinging at air, batters frozen in place, looking at pitches they can't see."