This blog was taken from a 1998 spring training post-game interview with Roger Clemens.
During this game, Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez was hit in the head by a pitch from New York Yankees starter Hideki Irabu. As it would turn out, Roger hit the Yankees shortstop the next half inning.
In this section, the Rocket discusses that most beloved subject of all dominating major league pitchers: the inside of the plate.
Q: Now, you had an HB, today, a "hit batsman." What pitch was that?
Roger: That was an inside fastball. To Derek Jeter.
Q: Irabu, himself, hit two Jays during the game. First Canseco, then shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the top of the 5th. Tell me about the 5th.
Roger: Alex was having a great at bat against Irabu. He worked Irabu to a 3-2 count and then started fouling fastballs off, over and over. Real good swings on them.
I had just come into the dugout, from my between-inning calisthentics. And then Irabu hits Alex in the head. I mean, it was dangerous. He got hit right in the temple. Thank God that, when he turned to avoid the fastball, his batting helmet stayed on. Because it just absolutely smoked him.
Knocked him right down. And he lay what seemed like forever. The Yankees immediately took Irabu out of the game, brought a replacement in. [Mike Buddie, who mainly played at Columbus in 1997, the Yankees AAA team.] We brought Craig Grabeck to fill in for Alex.
I went out and pitched my own end of the fifth, the bottom. A man got on [an error by the Jays], but we got a double play ball to get out of that. Jeter came up [Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter]. I threw a fastball away from him, on the left side of the plate. Then I came back with a fastball inside -- hitting Jeter in the upper rib cage.
There was no incident or anything. Jeter ran down to first. Pretty much, hey, just the game of baseball -- no, let me take that back, just the game of hardball. Right there.
After the game, the reporters asked me about my location. And then they said, "Was your location good on that Jeter pitch?" And I told them exactly what that pitch was: a fastball inside. It was a very meaningful fastball, sure, but it was just an inside fastball. In the major leagues.
Q: Some reporters were asking you, after, if you feel pitchers sometimes have to retaliate when their teammates get hit in the head.
Roger: And my only answer to that it is extremely unsettling when one of your teammates gets hit in the head. I can't underline that enough. I have to dress and be with these guys, every day, day in and day out, seven months of the year. I want their respect.
But I want Jays fans to know that Irabu sent his interpreter over to apologize to Alex in the clubhouse. I was in there when that happened. I thought that was very professional.
Q: Do you think he was aiming for Alex, because of that long at bat? Or did it just get away?
Roger: I can't comment on what was going on in his head. I just take at face value what his interpreter told us in the clubhouse: It was unintentional.
I hope Alex is okay. We won't know until tomorrow how he is. It's scary. Think about it. You've heard all the devastating things that can happen to a boxer from a punch. Well, here we have a baseball, a sphere that is harder than your knuckles. And it comes in at 95-plus mph. And that hits you in the head. It is dangerous. Myself, anytime I've ever gotten a fastball up around a guy's shoulder or head, it even scares me, let alone the hitter.
I pitch inside for a purpose. I believe that that is what got me to the bigs. And I believe that that is what has kept me in the bigs. I consider pitching inside part of my job up there on the mound. That's my livelihood.
But, I also understand that batters have kids and families. And I respect that. And that's why you never want to play around with a guy's head. A pitcher can get the job done in and around the belly button, maybe as high as the chest, to get a hitter to back off the plate.
Q: Many great pitchers of the past have said they can't believe the way some modern batters take the whole plate.
Roger: I have to pitch inside. I enjoy it and it's necessary. Sometimes, my control with my fastball can be detrimental because it lets guys get real comfortable up there. So I have to come inside.
Hall of Fame pitchers like Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson talked to me a fair bit, early in my career -- and Nolan [Ryan], to some extent. And that's where I learned about pitching inside. I mean, "Big D," before he passed on, he told me that he thought his "most important pitch" of any game was "the second knockdown pitch."
Roger: 'Cause then the hitter knew the first one wasn't a mistake.
Q: After the second brushback, I bet they were a little more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, huh?
Roger: You bet. In my first two years in the majors, I had to learn that just because you can throw hard doesn't mean everything. You keep throwing it right over the middle, guys are going to start turning it around on you big time at this level of play. They will hit it all over the place.
So you have to throw pitches that then set up other pitches. If you have a guy who is covering both sides of the plate, you have to get one side back.
Unfortunately, there are just some stubborn hitters. [long pause] Well... there are some stubborn pitchers, too.
That's what pitching inside is all about.
Don Drysdale requests you please pay attention.