Thursday, August 6, 2009

Great Names in Great Games - Roger Clemens Second Twenty Strikeout Game and Rudy Pemberton

Welcome to a new feature of our site, where we look at some of the all time great moments in sports and take a second to acknowledge the great names that took place in those moments. Because everyone knows about "The Shot Heard Round the World." But does everyone know about Wes Westrum? Or that Pee Wee Reese played in both that game and Don Larsen's 1956 Perfect Game? That's why we're here, to spread the great name news.

We begin Great Names in Great Games with the September, 18, 1996 game between the Detroit Tigers and the visiting Boston Red Sox. The Tigers had already lost 100 games by this point and the Red Sox were third in their division, and so little was on the line. The Red Sox had already called up top prospect Nomar Garciaparra to give him MLB experience at the end of the year and fan favorite Mike Greenwell was enjoying the final few weeks of his playing career. Tiger starting pitcher Justin Thompson was enjoying a terrible rookie season (he would be an all star the next season) and Red Sox starter Roger Clemens was not faring much better, coming in to the game with a 9-12 record. Clearly not the game you'd expect much of anything from.

Somehow, despite all this mess, Roger Clemens rang up twenty strikeouts for the second time in his career, including everyone in the lineup (plus pinch hitter Phil Hiatt) once and Travis Fryman four times. It was an amazing display of veteran skills for Clemens, and one that foreshadowed his great success in the future with the Blue Jays, Astros, and the FREAKING Yankees. All things told, quite the game to see.

Obviously Clemens received most all of the press, but there were many great names in this game who could've been mentioned. Some of the Tigers great names included Kimera Bartee (CF) and the excellent relief pitching duo of C.J. (Nitowski) and A.J. (Sager). As for the Sox, they had Nomar of course, but they also had Lee Tinsley (who came in as a defensive replacement and now coaches first base for the Mariners) and Darren Bragg, which really aren't shabby names at all.

But the name that stole the show? That'd be Rudy Pemberton (My girlfriend describes his name as "the kind of guy all the girls wanted to park with in the 50's."), who played quite literally the game of his life. Pemberton went 3 for 4 in the game, with two doubles, two runs, and one rbi. Both the doubles were of the impressive hustle variety, and he seemed to be quite the star in the making.

Thing is, Rudy's star never really got a chance to shine. He hit .300 over 12 games for the 1995 Tigers...and they demoted him. He hit a whooping .512 over the final 13 games of 1996 (the highest average ever for someone with more than 30 at bats in a season), including the 20 K game, and seemed to finally have made a name for himself. But after making the team out of spring training and even starting on opening day of 1997 (he went 0-4 with an rbi), Rudy slumped to .238 and lost his job to Troy O'Leary. And from then on was never in the majors again, despite hitting a cumulative .336 in the minors and .336/.395/.515 in the majors.

I'm not saying that Roger Clemens' twenty strikeouts on September 18th, 1996 totally killed Rudy Pemberton's chances at an elongated baseball career. He was already 27 and unheraled at the time, and wasn't going to be given much of a shot. But maybe if Roger had hit 18, or 16, or simply just been average, Rudy's fifteen minutes of fame might have been a little bit brighter. But sometimes the world works in funny ways, and so instead of having his name all over the papers the following day, Rudy Pemberton was simply a Great Name in a Great Game.

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