It was just 1991, but on a Wednesday evening at Fenway Park, Jack Morris of Minnesota and Roger Clemens of Boston would match up in a game that Jeff Lenihan of the Star Tribune described as a matchup between the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and the pitcher would likely end up with the most wins in the 1990s. Morris was 2-3 with a 5.49 ERA in his first year away from Detroit. Clemens was 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA coming into the game. The Twins were tied for fifth in the AL West at 13-13 while the Red Sox led Detroit by a half game in the AL East at 14-9.
Morris was not on his game this night. The Red Sox scored five runs in five innings off of Morris and got 16 runners on base against him and would win 8-3. The Red Sox had 10 hits (8 singles and 2 doubles) and 6 walks off of Morris. Every Boston starter would reach base on a hit or a walk in this game except for designated hitter Jack Clark, who went 0 for 5.
Clemens had given up just three runs all season and gave up just one on this night. That came in the seventh when Brian Harper singled home Kirby Puckett who had singled to lead off the inning. Boston would come back to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh off of reliever Carl Willis. The Twins scored two in the ninth off of Tony Fossas and Jeff Gray was called in to retire Junior Ortiz for the final out of the game. Gray would suffer a stroke in the offseason and was unable to pitch again in the majors after 1991.
With the win, Clemens ran his lifetime record against the Twins to 12-2. One young Twins player was impressed.
"He was awesome," said Twins rookie Chuck Knoblauch. "The best I've seen. He throws gas, plus he's got the breaking ball and the forkball."
So was the manager.
"That's the hardest I've seen Mr. Clemens throw the ball in my years in the big leagues," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "He just overmatched us. We mixed in a couple of hits and got a run, but he dominated the game. He was just too much. The most dominating thing to me was his fastball. He didn't have to use his other pitches as much. He had the good fastball, and it seemed he went to it more."
The Twins would fare better against Clemens after this night and at the end of the 2005 season, Clemens had a lifetime record of 23-12 against Minnesota with a 3.01 ERA. (The most wins Clemens has against any one team is the Angels at 29-9.) Clemens wouldn't end up as the winningest pitcher of the 1990s despite his good start. Greg Maddux ended up with that honor with 176 wins to Clemens 152. Tom Glavine won 164.
When the 1991 season ended though, the fortunes of the two teams playing this night were quite different. The Twins, who had finished in last place in 1990, went 22-6 in June en route to a 95-67 record and an 8 game edge over the White Sox. The AL West was a tough division in 1991 as no team had a losing record. Last place California was 81-81. The Red Sox went 22-32 in June and July and finished seven games behind first place Toronto.
Morris would win his next start vs Milwaukee, but then lose at Detroit on May 19. Then Morris would turn it around and win eight consecutive starts from May 24 through June 30. He finished the season with an 18-12 record and a 3.43 ERA. Clemens would lead the AL in ERA at 2.62 and an 18-10 record that would earn him his third Cy Young award.
The Twins had a team ERA of 3.69, third best in the AL behind Toronto and California. Scott Erickson went 20-8 and Kevin Tapani was 16-9. Rick Aguilera saved 42 games with a 2.35 ERA. Knoblauch won the Rookie of the Year award with a .281 batting average and 25 steals in 30 attempts. Chili Davis led the team with 29 home runs.
It would be in the postseason where this Twins squad would make its mark in history. They would beat Toronto in five games in the ALCS and then defeat the Braves in an epic seven game affair in which five of the seven games were decided by one run, three of them in extra innings. Morris would win Game 7, 1-0 in 10 innings and win the World Series MVP award.
Soon after the World Series ended, Morris signed a free agent deal with Toronto.
Sources: Star Tribune, Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com, Los Angeles Times