The return of Roger Clemens didn’t bother the Seattle Mariners nearly as much as their own return to reality.
Clemens, they handled. Most of the other Red Sox, they fared well.
It was reality and John Valentin that did in Seattle on Friday, though it took both 10 innings to get the job done as Boston rallied for a tying run in the ninth, then won it in the 10th, 6-5.
That 4-1 record their first five games without Ken Griffey Jr. may have lulled the Mariners, who played superbly for a week and came into Boston on a tear, having won seven of their last eight.
Three problems cropped up in Fenway Park, and the Mariners dealt with only one - Clemens.
Coming back to the big leagues for the first time in 10 months after sitting out the strike and then getting waylaid by tendinitis, Clemens helped draw Boston’s largest crowd of the season (33,474) and showed flashes of brilliance.
“The third inning, he threw me a pitch with something on it low and away and I took it for strike three,” Jay Buhner said. “I couldn’t have done anything with it, anyway.”
But Clemens also was uncharacteristically wild - hitting three batters in a game for the first time in his career - and couldn’t hold a lead. Because Chris Bosio could, Seattle got to the eighth inning ahead, 5-3.
“We had them right where we wanted them,” M’s manager Lou Piniella said.
Boston wouldn’t stay down and reality set in. Playing without Griffey isn’t easy, and over the crucial final four innings, the Mariners couldn’t punch across insurance runs.
Nor could they stop Valentin, the 28-year-old shortstop, who would go right to the Hall of Fame if he only played Seattle - in Fenway. In 1992, Valentin’s grand slam home run beat Mike Schooler. Two years later, Valentin turned a Marc Newfield line drive into an unassisted triple play against Seattle.
And Friday, he went 5 for 5 with three home runs, a single and a double, and scored four of the Sox’ six runs.
“Too much Valentin tonight,” Piniella said.
The first two of the shortstop’s homers came against Bosio. The third came in the eighth inning, with Ron Villone trying to hand a two-run lead over to closer Bobby Ayala.
Valentin cut it in half with his third home run.
“I fell behind and couldn’t put the fastball in either corner,” Villone said. “It was right down the middle, and he killed it.”
Still, the Mariners had what they wanted - what Piniella plays for: a one-run lead going into the ninth for a well-rested Ayala.
“No lead is safe in this park, but if I had to have one guy to try and hold that lead, I’d want our guy,” Piniella said. “Nobody is infallible.”
Ayala was eight-for-eight in save opportunities this season, had saved his last 13 chances going back to last year. He retired the first Boston batter in the ninth, then tried to get ahead of catcher Mike MacFarlane with a first-pitch forkball.
“It stayed up in the strike zone, right where he wanted it,” Ayala said.
Like each of Valentin’s home runs, that forkball wound up over the Green Monster in Fenway’s hallowed left field. A night of eking out runs against Clemens and a stingy Red Sox bullpen went with MacFarlane’s shot.
In the 10th, the Mariners went to Salomon Torres, brought up from Tacoma on Thursday. The first American League hitter he faced? Valentin.
Double to left.
Mo Vaughn was intentionally walked, and when pinch-hitter Steven Rodriguez tried to bunt the runners over, catcher Chad Kreuter pounced on the ball and threw Valentin out at third base.
Mike Greenwell then doubled into the left field corner, Vaughn trotted home and Boston had an improbable victory.
“It was a well-played game,” Piniella said. “A couple of the kids in the outfield - (Darren) Bragg and (Alex) Diaz - threw out one guy at third base, another at the plate. Jay Buhner hit a two-run home run, Bosio pitched seven good innings.
“It doesn’t always work out.”
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