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Clemens takes aim at possible last start

MINNEAPOLIS -- This is where it all began 19 years ago, and this is where it could all end Saturday.

Roger Clemens won the first of his 310 victories in the Metrodome back in 1984 -- when Jerry Remy was a Boston teammate and Kirby Puckett was a Minnesota rookie -- and he'll take the mound under the Teflon sky in Game 3 of the Yankees-Twins Division Series with no guarantee that he'll ever pitch another major league game.

Not that Clemens is looking at it that way. Or at least, if he is, he's not admitting to it.

"I haven't really reflected (on it possibly being the last start),'' Clemens said Friday afternoon. "I always think positive, so I'm going to think that we're going to win. But I know at some point in this season, it will be my last start. But hopefully it's not tomorrow.''

It could be, though. The series is tied 1-1, and the Twins would like nothing better than to win two in a row this weekend and make sure that nothing further is added to the Rocket's Hall of Fame plaque.

And what a birthday present that would be for Minnesota's Game 3 starter, Kyle Lohse -- ending the career of the pitcher who has won more Cy Young Awards than anyone else (six). Who struck out 20 batters in a game, twice. Who won an MVP. Who struck out 4,099 batters in his career. Who has won two World Series rings. Who has pitched in two others. Who has won an All-Star Game. Who is probably among the five greatest pitchers of all time.

It's matchups like Saturday's that Clemens will miss the most.

"I like to compete,'' said Clemens, 41. "I like to challenge guys, whether I'm facing them or they're alongside me, whether it's a workout in the afternoon or in the offseason just challenging guys. I like to find out about people's character as well as my own.''

In other words, there could be some mighty intense PlayStation games at the Clemens household next summer. Is that all you got, boy? IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?!?!?''

"It's tough to adjust. Your whole existence is about competing, and then you can't,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said, comparing Clemens to another famous competitor, Bob Gibson. "When Gibby retired, he said he had no desire to stay in baseball. Then when I was managing the Mets, he called and wanted to know if I had an opening.

"Gibby's career was so long, and he began when there was segregation, and he had to stay in different housing than his teammates during spring training. He dealt with a lot in his career. And if he missed baseball after all that, Roger will miss it. Everyone misses it.''

Of course, this isn't necessarily the end for Clemens, even if the Twins win. He has said that he would like to pitch in the Olympics next year, and there is always the possibility that he could change his mind next spring when the arm starts itching and the competitive juices start flowing, even if everyone insists that won't happen.

Clemens said that he wouldn't mind working as a coach with the Yankees next spring and that he'll coach his sons and play in charity golf tournaments. None of which sounds as if it will be enough for a Hall of Fame pitcher who once donned war paint before taking the mound.

So when he takes the mound on Saturday, it could be the last chance in his career to compete at the highest level possible. He's always tough to beat. He could be especially tough knowing that he is pitching to keep his career alive.

"There's no question we're going to miss him,'' Torre said. "Is there a chance he'll change his mind? I guess there is, but I don't think that's going to happen. I think that's why he's enjoying it so much now. Every single minute and every day, he just seems to really treasure the time and seems to be more relaxed and having more fun than I think he's had."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.