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Pregame prediction was just a little off

Years after Mike Ruth retires from the NFL and the Celtics hoist No. 33 to the rafters, Hot Stove folks from Bedford to Bellows Falls, Vt., will recall the night Roger Clemens rode into the baseball record books.

Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in nine innings last night. In 111 years of big league ball, no one has ever done that. The mind boggles.

Teammate Bill Buckner came within two punchouts of predicting the feat.

"Before the game, Buckner said he'd strike out 18," said Sox pitcher Al Nipper.

"The way he's been throwing and the way they've been striking out, 18 seemed like the number," admitted Buckner. "It's pretty tough to predict 20."

Buckner isn't kidding about Seattle's strikeout numbers. The Mariners have whiffed 186 times in 20 games. At that rate, the Mariners would strike out 1,506 times, smashing the major league record (1,203 by the 1968 Mets). The Mariners have struck out 32 times in the last two games, a major league record.

"I don't have an explanation for that," said Seattle's Gorman Thomas (24 strikeouts). "There's no defense for it. It's hard to believe."

Any team would have had trouble with Clemens last night. He had zero walks to go with 20 strikeouts. He never ran the count to three balls after the fourth inning. It was the sixth time Clemens had fanned 10 or more.

"When he has that kind of stuff, it's really not difficult to call the game," said Sox catcher Rich Gedman, who broke an American League record and tied a major league record (Jerry Grote, 1970 with Mets) with 20 putouts in a nine-inning game. "He just threw the ball to spots where they couldn't hit it."

Would Wade Boggs have struck out against Clemens last night?

"We'll never know," said Boggs.

Seattle rookie second baseman Danny Tartabull last night played his third game at Fenway Park -- his first in 18 years.

What's that again?

Before he was old enough to go to school, Tartabull played in a couple of father-son games on the Fenway lawn.

"I don't remember much about it," the 23-year-old said before last night's game. "I just remember having my uniform on, walking to the ballpark with my brother."

The Tartabull family lived in Cambridge while dad Jose Tartabull toiled for the Red Sox during the unforgettable summer of 1967.

Jose Tartabull's contribution to the Impossible Dream season hasn't been forgotten in these parts. In the heat of the epic '67 pennant chase, right fielder Tartabull gunned down Ken Berry at home plate to clinch an important victory over the White Sox.

"A lot of people still bring that particular play up," said Jose's son.

Danny Tartabull reminds no one of his father.

"We're total opposites," he said. "He was fleet. I am not fleet-footed. I hit for power; he didn't. He was a lot more defensive-minded than I am. I like to think of Dad as my idol, my hero, but not to be compared because we're totally different."

Tartabull hit 43 home runs en route to winning the Pacific Coast League MVP Award last summer. He unseated popular Jack Perconte at second base this spring, then roared into April hitting four home runs in four games (two more than his father's career total).

A big slump followed. Tartabull is hitting .096 (3 for 31) in his last games.

"I think it's fairly commonplace," said Thomas, one of many struggling Mariners. "Few people can make an instant impression and eat the pitching up. It's a learning process for him now. He has to learn to handle the highs and the lows."

Seattle's rookie had a good role model.

"The biggest thing I learned from my dad was to always play 110 percent -- to play hard at all times," said Tartabull.

Injury update: Red Sox physician Arthur Pappas examined Tony Armas and Wes Gardner yesterday. Pappas on Armas: "He's got a mild (left thigh) muscle pull, but I don't feel a tear or gap in the muscle. We're talking about a few days." Said general manager Lou Gorman, "We were prepared to make a move (disabled list), "but the doctor thinks it's day to day." . . . Pappas on Gardner: "He's got a minor pull in the back of the shoulder. He can do light throwing, but he's not ready for anything on the mound." Pappas thought Gardner's problems in Kansas City (Gardner experienced pain while throwing Sunday) would only set him back "a few extra days." . . . Meanwhile, Glenn Hoffman made his first start at shortstop since April 9. Hoffman turned his right ankle in Florida on Easter Sunday and had played less than three full games in a four-week period. Hoffman said, "There's no pain anymore," but admitted he was still concerned about his range of motion.

Steve Lyons made his first start of the season and had a key two-out hit in the eighth. Sox manager John McNamara stopped short of saying that Lyons will be in center until he plays his way back to the bench. "Lyons is getting the chance," said McNamara. "If he plays well, we'll have a decision to make when Tony is ready to play." Gorman admitted he talked with the Dodgers (presumably about Armas), but said, "Nothing's hot." . . . Here's McNamara's comment on the complaints of Oil Can Boyd: "I've never said a word to him about toning down. If it (Boyd's antics) offends other players, that's tough. If it's coming from his own teammates, I'm not aware of it. I spoke with him for an hour and a half. I might be his best friend. Whatever it takes for him to win, that's fine with me. All I want is for him to win and be successful." Gorman on Boyd: "We've spent a lot of time with the Can. I think when someone tries to help, he misunderstands people's good intentions sometimes."

Marty Barrett struck out for the first time all season . . . Mariner shotstop Spike Owen has been moved from the No. 9 slot to the leadoff spot. Alvin Davis didn't play last night because of a shoulder injury . . . The Mariners have lost 10 of 12 . . . Kemer Brett is in town with the Mariners. He's part of Seattle's television broadcast team . . . The Red Sox announced that 19 members of the 1946 AL champs will return to Fenway for an old-timers' game May 17 . . . It will be Bruce Hurst (1-2) against Seattle's Mark Langston (1-2) tonight (7:30, NESN), with Boyd (1-2) against Matt Young (2-2) in the series finale tomorrow night . . . After fighting off a recent illness, longtime press room mixologist Walter Underhill was back at his station last night.

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