In case of 300, Yankees not helping matters

Joe Torre might be right when he says the Yankees have to stop hyperventilating at Roger Clemens' pursuit of 300.

Originally Published: June 2, 2003
By Bob Klapisch | Special to ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Roger Clemens says he's impatient, but only slightly, and definitely not discouraged. The Yankees say they're pressing, but only because they're too focused on the Rocket and not, as Derek Jeter insists, because of any deeper-rooted problems that require intervention from you-know-who. "It was just one of those days. You can't explain it, but it happens," said Jeter, bone-tired, out of energy and out of answers after being on the field for more than five hours Sunday. The Yankees tried in vain to explain why Clemens never made it to career win No. 300, and why -- after a 10-9, 17-inning victory, they had to work so hard just to take 2 of 3 from the otherwise pitiful Tigers. Clearly, it was no ordinary day, for the Rocket or anyone else in pinstripes. Leading 7-1 with one out in the fifth inning, the Rocket allowed a single to No. 8 hitter Brandon Inge, who's batting .163 average, and was then tagged for a two-run HR by Gene Kingsale, who hadn't homered in 100 at-bats this season. So began the Rocket's rapid descent toward a no-decision: The Yankees ended up committing three errors in the inning, and even though Clemens wriggled free with a 7-6 lead -- which was fattened to 8-6 on Todd Zeile's HR in the sixth inning -- the Yankee bullpen promptly squandered it. If nothing else, the Rocket's stalled engine sets up a compelling showdown with the Cubs' Kerry Wood on Saturday. Zeile wasn't overstating matters when he said "it's going to be insane" at Wrigley, in a battle of two of the hardest throwers in the game, inflating scalper's prices for a single ticket into the hundreds. Actually, maybe the extra buzz is the medicine the Yankees need. Perhaps Clemens is meant to win 300 in more dramatic fashion, on national TV, pitted against a younger version of himself. Maybe the Yankees require a journey into their own past, not having played at Wrigley since 1938. Clemens has never pitched at Wrigley, so maybe he needs an entirely new vista. Or maybe it's as Jeter said: The afternoon was just a bizarre assembly of bad breaks and bad baseball. In either case, the Yankees left Comerica Park victorious but clearly embarrassed. They committed a total of four errors, their most in almost two years, and were shut out for more then 10 innings before Alfonso Soriano and Jorge Posada homered in the 17th inning off Steve Sparks. But even that triumph had its surcharge, since Joe Torre was forced to use David Wells for almost six innings of relief, meaning Boomer will be unavailable to make his regularly scheduled start against the Reds on Thursday. Instead, he'll take the mound Friday, in the series opener against the Cubs. Between now and the weekend, Torre says the Yankees have to stop hyperventilating at Clemens' pursuit of 300. Even the ever-stoic Derek Jeter, who made one of the critical errors in the fifth, said he was "nervous" before the game, when thousands of fans were allowed on the field, everyone taking pictures to preserve their piece of history. Or so they thought. Reggie Jackson bought into the can't-miss scenario, as well, flying in from California just for the afternoon. "Glad you're here," Clemens said, as he walked by Reggie in the Yankee clubhouse. "Glad to be here," Jackson replied. In retrospect, Torre said, the hype may have been more than some Yankees could digest. "You're trying to do things for Roger and everyone gets a little anxious. That's the only way I can describe it," the manager said. "Everybody's out there trying too hard, and we just couldn't get it done. It was very surprising, no doubt, having a 7-1 lead." The Rocket arched his eyebrows ever so slightly at his defense, saying the fifth inning "felt like two and a half innings." But Clemens was careful not to dwell on that Tigers' 10-batter rally, or the frustration of waiting another five days for another crack at No. 300. "It's going to happen. I'm not too concerned with it," Clemens said calmly. "I'm just going to continue to go out there and pitch well. I'm just glad we won the game." Indeed, outlasting the Tigers and remaining in first place while the Red Sox were being swept by Toronto probably kept George Steinbrenner from lashing out again. But there's no guarantee the Boss can stay off the back pages for too long. According to The Hartford Courant, Steinbrenner recently demanded that YES Network reporters challenge Torre more directly in postgame questions, and Steinbrenner is already on record complaining about his manager's low-key approach, even in defeat. The Tigers, on the other hand, were not only aware of Clemens' overwhelming, on-paper advantage against the AL's worst offense, they used it as motivation. "We know everybody in the country thought we were going to be pushovers," manager Alan Trammell told The New York Times. "It was 7-1 and people were switching channels around the country and saying that this was going to be a ho-hum win. "Well, it wasn't, was it?" Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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