24-4, 2.48/0.969/.200, 254 IP, 238 K, 67 BB, 8.4 K/9, 6.3 H/9, 3.6 K/BB, 169 ERA+
Postseason: 5 G, 1-1, 3.97/1.382/.238, 34 IP, 28 K, 13 BB, 15 ER
MVP, Cy Young, All-Star starter, All-Star MVP, Major League Player of the Year, TSN AL Pitcher of the Year
There are many things that have sullied Roger Clemens’ reputation over the past 20 years, particularly among Red Sox fans. Those should not do anything to take away from the magic of those first special years in Boston. It was obvious even in 1986 that Clemens was a flawed personality; whether he could get past an injury-marred first two seasons and fulfill the potential that had caused the Red Sox to draft him with the 17th overall pick of the 1983 draft was a different story.
By April 29, it was pretty clear he could fulfill that potential. Entering that start, his fourth of the season, he was already 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA. By the end of the night — 20 strikeouts later — he was a sensation, having set the big-league record for strikeouts in a game. He would win 10 more decisions before taking his first loss of the season. His 24-4 record – the second-best winning percentage in Red Sox history – could have been even better, but he lost a 1-0 complete game by giving up an unearned run and received a no-decision by pitching nine shutout innings of a 12-inning 1-0 loss. In the end, Clemens went at least eight innings 22 times, including 13 times in the 15 starts during which he compiled his 14 straight victories. Those are numbers we may never see again.
Clemens fell one short of the AL record of 15 consecutive victories to start a season, but he did set the Red Sox record (later broken) for opponents’ batting average. Perhaps most impressive – and least discussed – about Clemens’ 1986 campaign was how young he was when he managed it. He was just 23. Of the 413 pitchers to log 150 innings at age 23, Clemens ranks first in winning percentage, fourth in wins, second in fewest losses, second in WHIP, and in the Retrosheet era, fourth in opponents’ batting, first in opponents’ OBP and first in opponents’ OPS+.
Key game: April 29. Plenty has been written, particularly as the 20th anniversary of Clemens’ first 20-strikeout game has come and gone, about that amazing start. The game itself has been replayed numerous times on NESN. Little more can be said about it, although consider the feat this way: Clemens struck out two out of every three batters he faced, and recorded a K for nearly three out of every four outs. Yet his chances of setting the mark dropped significantly when he struck out just one in the third. With six strikeouts through three, Clemens needed to record 14 strikeouts in six innings (18 batters). Which of course is exactly what he did, striking out the side in fourth and fifth, then taking it easy by ringing up two each inning the rest of the way.