Clay Buchholz had yet to be born when Roger Clemens first took the mound at Fenway park for his Major League debut. He was two years old when Clemens won his first Cy Young Award in 1986.
But Wednesday, the 22-year old Buchholz shared the mound at Trenton with his childhood idol. Clemens, twice the age of Buchholz, came to town looking to rekindle his trademark exuberance. And for one Minor League game, both men were just a couple of Texas boys with something to prove.
"It was an honor to stand on the same mound with him and pitch against him," Buchholz said of Clemens. "It's been going through my head [this week], and up until [Wednesday] I've tried to clear my mind and just go out there and throw."
Buchholz, though he wouldn't say so, outdueled the Rocket, striking out eight batters without a walk and left the game with a 3-2 lead. Trenton rallied for a run in the 10th inning, leaving both starters without a decision at Waterfront Park.
"I was a little nervous. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't," Buchholz said. "I think I used it all to my advantage though, as far as the adrenaline. Overall I felt pretty good out there."
Clemens looked sharp as well. His recent comeback with the New York Yankees puts him in line for a much-anticipated start in Boston next month, adding to the intrigue of his matchup with the Red Sox's Double-A affiliate.
It's been two decades since Clemens was Boston's top arm. Buchholz, the current face of Boston's pitching future, did his best to perform as such Wednesday.
"For the most part, I felt like I controlled myself in this situation," he said. "It's hard to be out there and pitch and think about it all at the same time."
And while Clemens had the hoards of media around him -- a helicopter even hovered over the stadium -- it was Buchholz who quietly held the Thunder to two runs on seven hits over six innings. Clemens left in the middle of the sixth trailing, 3-2, while Buchholz had eight strikeouts to his six.
"I'm never going to say I outdid him until it's at the big-league level," Buchholz said. "It was awesome just being out there and knowing who you're going up against. "It was awesome getting to go at it with him."
Buchholz said he was held back in the Sea Dogs rotation intentionally to be matched up against Clemens.
"I'm glad they did it," he said. "It was a great experience."
Buchholz said he found out he'd face the Rocket on Saturday and there wasn't any advice that could have possibly prepared him for the matchup.
"It was unbelievable, seeing him go out there with that ovation," Buchholz said of Clemens and the cloud of media that hovered around his every move. "Between innings, seeing him come off and get a standing O, that's what you work to get to. Hopefully one day I'll find myself in the same situation he's in."
Buchholz is certainly headed down the right path. He entered the start 1-0 with a 1.48 ERA over his previous four starts, averaging 12 strikeouts per nine innings -- a stat Clemens would approve of. The highly prized Boston arm established a Sea Dogs franchise record May 11 against Binghamton with eight straight strikeouts. Clemens, of course, set a Red Sox record in 1986 with 20 strikeouts in one game.
"It was in the back of my mind that he's going to throw real good," Buchholz said. "How could I top that?"
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was on hand to watch his 2005 first-round draft pick duel with the former Boston star. Buchholz, the Red Sox's Minor League pitcher of the year last season, grew up idolizing Clemens in Texas. He admitted he often drove an hour to Houston just to watch Clemens pitch for his hometown Astros.
Fans in New Jersey poured in the gates to see Clemens, who cruised into town in John Madden's legendary custom coach bus. While the crowd hung on every pitch from the Rocket, Buchholz kept them wondering just who was in charge.
The only trouble for Buchholz came early in the first when he allowed four consecutive singles to start the inning. Shawn Garrett knocked in two runs with a single to right, but Buchholz recovered. He struck out P.J. Pilittere and Matt Carson before popping up Noah Hall to end the inning.
"I felt like I made some good pitches, they just put them in play," Buchholz said of the first inning. He added that his control improved later in the game.
Clemens took the mound and fanned Scott Youngbauer and John Otness to start the second as though he was responding to the youngster across the field.
A one-out ninth-inning homer took Clemens off the hook left Buchholz without a chance for a win. Outside of an earlier Spring Training start, Buchholz said Wednesday was the closest he's felt to Major League action.
"They've been the two biggest games I've pitched in my life so far," he said. "Hopefully, there's many more to come."