Last night’s Astros game in Oakland turned ugly in a hurry when starting pitcher Erik Bedard walked the first three A’s he faced. When Astros castoff Nate Freiman blasted a 3-run homer later in the inning to make the score 6-0, Bedard’s night was over. I would have to assume that the miniscule number of Astros fans who were able to watch the game had probably seen enough — and turned off their television sets at that exact moment. Those who did missed the most entertaining individual performance of the young season.
Bedard was replaced on the mound by rookie right-hander Paul Clemens. Making only his second big league appearance, Clemens tossed 5 & 1/3 scoreless innings. The 25-year old from Columbia, South Carolina allowed only one hit and two walks while striking out three. The numbers speak for themselves as outstanding. But, it was the vigor with which Clemens delivered the string of zeroes across the scoreboard that made it special.
As one of the millions of Astros fans without the ability to view the games on CSN Houston, I was tuned in to MLB Network’s MLB Tonight. The program airs timely highlights and even “live look-ins” on a nightly basis, and with only a few late games on the schedule the chances of seeing some Astros coverage seemed good.
Paul Clemens is awesome! (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
After showing the Freiman homerun a couple of times, MLB Tonight anchor Greg Amsinger mentioned in passing that “Pat” Clemens was in the game for Houston. A little later, another highlight was aired and, this time, Amsinger got the name right. The highlight showed Clemens popping off the mound and overrunning a foul popup that would drop untouched. The MLB Tonight crew got a laugh out of Clemens, especially when he sprinted over to Carlos Pena and started having an animated conversation with the Astros first-baseman.
The next highlight showed another popup that was strikingly similar to the first. This time Clemens immediately pointed in the direction of the ball and kept pointing until third-baseman Matt Dominguez had secured it. Amsinger’s cohort, Harold Reynolds, noted that Clemens was a quick study. He had learned from his mistake on the first popup and put his new found knowledge to good use. The MLB Tonight crew was now impressed with Clemens and also entertained by his unbridled enthusiasm.
Clemens kept mowing down A’s hitters and Amsinger teased an upcoming highlight by saying something to the effect of: “the legend of Paul Clemens continues to grow”.
A few minutes passed before the legendary highlight was presented, but it was worth the wait. Leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, Freiman hit a comebacker that Clemens reached for with his pitching hand. The ball caromed off Paul’s hand and went right to shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who then threw to first base for the out. Clemens then raised his hand and used his glove to wave for the attention of the trainer.
Clemens’ right pinky finger was obviously dislocated. The digit was pointing in a couple of different directions. Astros medical staff made their way to the mound and popped the pinky back in place. Clemens insisted that he was okay, and remained in the game. Of course, the MLB Tonight crew was going on about how a pitcher should never try to field a ball with his bare hand.
As Astros medical personnel ran off the field snickering, Clemens prepared to face the next hitter. Clemens delivered a couple of strikes before Michael Taylor hit a looping liner back up the middle. Clemens leaped into the air, extending his glove hand, in an effort to catch the ball but it was well out of reach. Jose Altuve picked it up on a bounce and threw to Pena at first for the second out of the inning.
Once again, Harold Reynolds was impressed by Clemens’ ability to learn from his mistakes. This time he had attempted to field the ball with his glove!
Clemens would then leave the game after 74 pitches, one mangled finger, and one legendary performance. The cameras stayed on Clemens in the dugout as he pulled on the pinky to try and straighten it out a little better. Then, as he talked with pitching coach Doug Brocail, Clemens delivered a fist-bump with the same hand that housed the damaged digit. Legendary status achieved!
After the game, Clemens told mlb.com’s Rick Eymer:
"I could have popped it back in myself, but I wanted to make sure the trainer knew about it. It’s something I’ve had since high school. It’s happened a thousand times."
If that’s the case, perhaps Clemens won’t miss significant time with the injury. The Astros bullpen could certainly use more outings like the one Clemens delivered Monday night.